Category: Biblical Interpretation

The Best Gift

Earnestly desire to prophesy!

When was the last time you received a word of encouragement, one that consoled you during a time of loss or simply gave you a quick “nudge from behind” to keep moving in spite of your discouragement?

Reading the Scriptures, particularly the Apostle Paul’s teachings in I Corinthians, we see clearly that God desires to give us these kinds of messages through the ministry of fellow believers.  He does so by empowering believers through the Holy Spirit’s “spiritual gifts,” which are listed in the following passage:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (I Corinthians 12:7-11).

According to the writer of the Book of Hebrews, these gifts were demonstrably manifested through the believers in the Early Church:

how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-5)

Have the Gifts Ceased?

In recent years, comparatively at least, many dispensational Bible teachers and their disciples have taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer given after the age of the Apostles.  This teaching is primarily based on the following passage:

 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part;10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:8-12).

This seems clear enough according to a superficial reading:  based on Paul’s description of the spiritual gifts in this passage, therefore, it is believed by many in the Church today that the gifts are “childish,” not intended for mature believers, for they are “partial” and imperfect.  As Paul writes, “We see in a mirror dimly” (II Cor. 3:12).  It is believed instead that the “perfect” has come to the Church through the completion of the Holy Scriptures, so we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts to teach us and lead us, and the “partial” has been done away with because the “perfect” Bible has been completed. 

However, we must read all of the Scriptures in their contexts, particularly those written by the apostle Paul.  Consider the following passage:

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [metamorphosized] into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:15-18)

It seems ironic, therefore, that the Apostles and Prophets of the Early Church who exercised these “childish” and “imperfect” spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit were also the very ones who thoroughly read the books of the Old Testament (“Moses is read”), and wrote the books of the New Testament.  I can only conclude that the dispensationalist interpretation of Paul’s message is incorrect and misleading. 

Looking Into the Mirror

Instead, the “mirror” references in these passages reveal that the  “perfect” that was predicted is not the New Testament itself, but instead is Jesus Christ when He comes again.  He is the “perfect” Who is coming, and when He appears, we all will be instantly transformed and metamorphosized into His image, for we will see Him in all of His glory.  When this happens, we will be “like Him”:

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53)

See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.  And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  (1 John 3:1-3)

What is the Outcome, then?

We must not be like those sons of Israel who hardened their hearts and heard the reading of the old covenant (Moses) with a “veil” over their hearts.  We must turn to the Lord, who takes the veil away from our hearts, and He will give us liberty.  Read again Paul’s exhortation:

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:12-18).

Since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” Paul further exhorts us to be used by the Holy Spirit through the “gifts of the Spirit”:

So also you since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. (I Corinthians 14:12).

In the Book of Acts, Luke the author and disciple of the Apostle Paul writes this description of Peter’s message to the curious onlookers when on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gathered believers:

 “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).

In context, therefore, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us in the same way, for the promise is to “all who are far away, as many as the Lord calls.” When we are baptized in His Spirit, therefore, we will find that we will experience the gift of speaking in tongues, plus all the other gifts when needed, if we continue to follow Him (1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14). These are God’s gifts of power to enable us to accomplish the tasks to which we have been commissioned.

These gifts have been abused by many, unfortunately, even by some in the Early Church, according to the Apostle Paul’s admonitions in the “Love Chapter” (I Corinthians 13).  If the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not operated in love, Paul writes, we align with the following description:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

Nevertheless, we should not take lightly the Lord’s words to us provided in John’s Gospel.  Clearly, we need today the “rivers of living water” Jesus promised us:

…Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified). (John 7:37b-39)

Finally, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to “earnestly” desire the best spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:1). 

What are the “best” gifts?  They are those that are most in need at the moment.  We should be open to being used by the Holy Spirit at any time in any way He chooses.  And Paul particularly recommends that we desire to prophesy,

 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. (I Corinthians 14:1-4).

He makes this recommendation specifically because prophecy is a gift that we all need to experience, for spiritual encouragement.  

One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. (v. 3)

In addition, the Apostle Paul also reveals another reason why prophecy is important in the Church:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.  (I Corinthians 14:24-26)

I experienced just such a moment early in my ministry when, while leading a home group meeting, I was praying and a word of knowledge came to me.  I spoke the revelation with my eyes closed, and when I opened them, a young woman whom I had never seen before was standing in front of me weeping.  “How did you know those things about me?” she said.  I asked if she wanted to invite Jesus into her life to be her Lord and Savior, and she readily agreed, praying for salvation that night.  

We must understand, therefore, that the gift of prophecy is not intended to “predict the future,” as so many believe.  It should not be connected with occult astrology, fortune telling, or divination by any means.

Another Example

Just yesterday in a women’s Bible study and prayer group here in Hopkins, Belize, my wife Jan received a “word of knowledge” and spoke to a young mother who tended to be very shy in the group.  In effect, Jan said to her, “Do not be troubled about what you will say when you are led to speak to someone, for you love Jesus and you only need to let His light shine through you to others.”

The woman was so moved by this message that she began to weep joyfully, for she indeed had been encouraged, edified, and exhorted.  

Final Comments:

Please note that the Apostle Paul does not denigrate the gift of speaking in tongues, for he tells us that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else.  He does so because through the Holy Spirit he is able to pray “in mysteries” when his mind does not know how to pray.  Consequently, he is personally edified.  He only stipulates that this gift must be used properly and in love.  Paul also states that its use in the Church must not be forbidden:

 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. . . .39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (I Corinthians 14:4-5).

Wrangling, Part II

A Brief Follow-up

Shortly after posting my last article, titled “Wrangling About Words,” I had a dream.  

I was out fishing with some friends in a boat near where we are currently living in Belize.  One of the fishermen wanted to give a fish to one of his village friends, but he couldn’t remember which fish it was he had caught.  He said something like, “You know, the one that looks like a large trout!”

An argument arose, each man naming the fish by a different name.  After a very intense discussion, I finally held up the fish itself and said, “Surely, we can agree on what to call this fish!”

I was relieved that the argument was over when I awoke from the dream, even though we still hadn’t named the fish.  I lay there in the darkness thinking about the final message, and I was reminded of my recent blog article.  

First, I realized that the fish itself was more than a name, more than just a word.  Instead, it was a vital piece of food for someone in the Belizean village who needed subsistence.  Arguing about what it was called and even agreeing on a name wouldn’t satisfy the hunger of the recipient.

Second, I recalled that Jesus called some of his new followers to be  “fishers of men.”

18Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-20).

I realized that arguing over the name of a fish will not catch a fish, any more than arguing over Church doctrines will bring people into the Kingdom of God.  Instead, wrangling about biblical teachings only convinces non-believers that Christians are deceiving themselves into thinking that they truly know and understand the Scriptures that we claim to be the Word of God which we have personally received.

Let us all agree to cease arguing over doctrines and teachings.  Surely, we can agree on what to call Jesus: the Messiah and Savior, Who came into the world to redeem us from the bondage of sin.

 

Wrangling About Words

Responding to Critics

Since beginning in Christian ministry in 1973, first as an Associate Pastor (licensed), continuing as a home group leader and Bible study teacher, then as a senior pastor and church founder (ordained), and now as an online blogger, I have been accused on a number of occasions of being a “false teacher,” trying to start a cult and gain followers, or be like so many other prominent televangelists and megachurch leaders who seek to gain fame and wealth.  

I can understand the concerns of my accusers, for the Apostle Peter warned against just such “false prophets” in the following passage:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (II Peter 2:1-3).

It is not in my nature to become bitter and angry when I receive such accusations against my life and ministry, though I am only too willing to respond and explain my background, teachings,  and calling when confronted by those who are willing to listen.  

I fully understand that some of my teachings may conflict with many of the more standard interpretations of the Scriptures obtained from theology texts or consumed in seminaries and Bible colleges.  I also acknowledge my weaknesses, for I am not trained in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek), for example.  However, I  believe my inadequacies are sufficiently compensated for by my willingness to consult expert opinions and translations online, as well as use a Greek thesaurus.

My Qualifications

With a Ph.D.  in literature and more than twenty years experience as a university professor, I believe I am fully trained in recognizing and adapting the genres of literature and written texts, while applying the norms for these genres to biblical texts, a context that is not always followed by many Bible teachers and preachers.  Those who delight in interpreting the Scriptures literally, for example, do not always acknowledge that some passages are nonsensical if interpreted literally.

Christ’s references to the “bread” and “cup” in the Gospel accounts  of The Last Supper, for example, do not mean that the elements of the communion are literally the body and blood of Jesus, although many Christians believe in “transubstantiation.”  An example of taking a metaphor literally.  Surely, Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, as the Early Church was accused of teaching.

Apocalyptic writings in the Bible, mainly in Daniel and the Book of Revelation, are also interpreted literally, even though such writings are obviously made up of dreams, signs, symbols and the extra-textual meanings of these kinds of writings.  In addition, I once heard a Bible teacher relate that the “locusts” in the Book of Revelation refer to the “helicopters” in today’s conditions, which meant that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent given the kind of warfare being fought during the Vietnam era.  And how long has it been since then?  Remember when Henry Kissinger was labeled the AntiChrist?  Or was it Anwar Sadat?  

The Apostle Peter continues in his letter to advise and admonish Christians as follows:

14Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 2:14-18)

Clearly, Peter the fisherman had some difficulty understanding the educated Apostle Paul’s letters, for even he, the “rock,” found them “hard to understand.”

Notice, however, that Peter does not counsel that believers must vehemently argue with and condemn or accuse any teachers with whom we disagree. He instead simply advises believers to beware so as not to be “carried away” with teachings that espouse greed and licentiousness.

Indeed, the Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy, his disciple, not to fight, or “wrangle,” over “words,” or perhaps such acronyms as the “TULIP” of Calvinism.

I, personally, have chosen to teach from the Scriptures rather than a book someone has written, whether in the 1600’s or in the 21st Century.    

14Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers  (II Timothy 2:14).

Surely, Paul does not condone false teachings, but instead says that wrangling and fighting are “useless” and lead those who hear such wrangling to ruin.

Indeed, I have tried to explain certain biblical teachings to some of my opponents, only to see the homegroup meetings or Bible classes disrupted and almost destroyed.  Some people simply will not be convinced in spite of clear evidence in Scripture passages, primarily because they do not like what they have learned to be opposed.  Thus, they rise up in “unrighteous indignation.”

The Holy Spirit’s Teachings

Jesus related to His disciples that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to them, both to empower them to spread the Good News of the Gospel, but also to be their Teacher: “ But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:6).

I have been listening to sermons and teachings since my childhood, yet I am persuaded that I learn only when the Holy Spirit is the inspiration for these messages and He confirms their truths in my heart.  Consequently, while I admire and listen continually to a number of Bible teachers, I am mostly focused on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to live, learn, and grow.

In addition, as a Bible teacher I have been most moved recently by such Scriptures as the following:

  1. Job 12:22 “He reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light.
  2. Daniel 2:28:  “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”
  3. Daniel 2:29:  “As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.”
  4. Daniel 2:47:  “The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
  5. Matthew 13:11:  “Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
  6. Luke 8:10:  “And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
  7. 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
  8. 1 Corinthians 13:2:  “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
  9. 1 Corinthians 14:2:  “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

The Apostle Paul’s defense of his own teachings includes the following:

 “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (II Corinthians 12:1-4).

Thus, Paul’s teachings, which comprise most of the New Testament, were revealed to Him as “mysteries,” which defined means, “the secrets God desires to reveal to His people.”  Consequently, the purpose of this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog site is to share what I have learned about these mysteries.

Back to Peter

One teaching that continues to be highly controversial concerns “End Times” prophecy, for the reasons stated above, as well as the desire to sell books, perhaps, among other reasons.  Concerning this mystery, Peter wrote the following:

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:3-9)

Unlike so many teachers today, however, Peter does not, in an attempt to sell books, try to pick the “day or the hour” of Christ’s return (which only the Father knows!) nor does he try to locate the “anti-Christ” (who obviously was not the Emperor Nero!).  

Peter continues on to write the following:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. 

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:10-13)

Therefore, even those who declared the prophetic Words of the Lord, following the leadings of the Holy Spirit, did not presume to “serve themselves” by trying to gain fame and fortune by publishing best sellers or make films about the End Times, as is the case today.

It even appears that lately, such false teachers are resorting to astrology to predict End Times events (“blood moons” and Jupiter’s emergence from the “womb” of the constellation Virgo).

Conclusion

It is fruitless to “wrangle” over such teachings, however.  We are only told by Peter and Paul to beware lest we be led astray.  We need only be concerned with keeping our lamps filled with “oil,” so that when Christ appears, we all will see Him in His glory, and we will forever be with Him!  

Who Is In the Mirror?

Entirely Unexpected

I recently finished reading a extraordinary book on Kindle, a memoir titled, “Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard,” written by Laura Bates, a professor and volunteer teacher of Shakespeare in a maximum security prison in Indiana.  

As a retired Professor of English myself, with over 20 years experience teaching some of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as numerous other challenging texts in literature and composition classes (Seriously?  War and Peace?), while also teaching English majors to teach English as secondary education teachers (grades 7-12) for many years, I was poignantly reminded while reading this book of my own struggles to make my classes not only interesting for my students, but also challenging and meaningful, not to mention obtaining tenure and promotions.  

My students were usually very motivated to become teachers themselves, or at least complete their undergraduate degrees. I never considered, however, that teaching Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello would bring significant changes into my students’ lives.  

Professor Bates, however, taught Shakespeare’s plays not only to prisoners, but also to the worst criminal offenders who had been confined in a supermax solitary prison. While doing so, she had to hand out assignments and hold group discussions with only eight students, yet all had to sit in separate cells, conversing through the very small “windows” used to pass meals to the prisoners.    

One of the Worst

One of these prisoners was Larry Newman, known to be the most dangerous prisoner in the Indiana state’s Westville supermax prison” (Bates, 17).  Although he was a fifth-grade dropout and a convicted murderer, with two escape attempts on his record, stabbing one of the prison guards during one attempt, Larry is the focus of much of the book because of his life-changing encounters while reading and studying Shakespeare’s plays.

Larry Newman’s experiences growing up in an abusive home and a crime-filled neighborhood gave him significant insights into some of the problems raised in Shakespeare’s plays, such as the gang-warfare in Romeo and Juliet (Capulets versus the Montagues) or the murders of King Duncan in Macbeth and Othello’s murder of his wife Desdemona because of Othello’s jealous rage. While reading these scenes in Shakespeare’s plays, Newman must confront the decisions he has made in his own life and is forced to challenge his own tightly held positions.  

Consequently, studying Shakespeare’s plays under Laura Bates changed his life, and he became one of the reasons why Bates’ program was so successful with other prisoners, as he participated with her in the classes, continually adding insightful contributions to the weekly lessons and discussions. Ultimately, he even partnered with Dr. Bates in writing a detailed guide to teaching Shakespeare’s plays to inmates, and he even began taking classes to obtain a Ph. D. while in prison to pursue his goal of becoming a professor himself, even though parole would never be possible in his lifetime.

Previously, Newman had spent over ten years in solitary confinement, his only contact with another human being occurring when he was handcuffed and escorted to a restroom, or when he was finally allowed to attend the Shakespeare classes with Dr. Bates.  In the class, titled “Shakespeare in Shackles,” Newman is confronted with such topics as honor, revenge, and conscience, forcing him and the other prisoners to consider their own actions from a new perspective provided by Shakespeare 400 years ago.

A Changed Man

At one point, after three years of partnering with Dr. Bates, the following conversation took place (Bates, 174):

“Where do you think you would be without Shakespeare?”  

Newman responded, saying, “I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today.  I know that.  I’d either be in deeper trouble–tried to escape and been in worse trouble than I was–or maybe I would’ve just that one day developed the courage to . . . you know what I mean?”

“Suicide?” I asked hesitantly.

Heck, yeah,” he replied.  “I was ready to go! I can’t tell you how much I was.” 

After musing on his suicidal thoughts, Newman continued to say,

“But the point is, the being dead part never worried me.  It seemed like a very plausible alternative.  So that’s not even what makes me the happiest.  I like being alive, I like my life, but what makes me the happiest is that I just really feel like I can go anywhere and do anything. I make decisions now ’cause that’s what makes me the happiest.  

Laura Bares is amazed and speechless:

I had worked with this prisoner for more than three years, but I had no idea that Shakespeare–and I–had that kind of impact on him.  I had never had that kind of impact on anyone.  I had never saved anyone’s life before (176).

Finding the Pattern

As both a literature teacher and a student of the Bible, I am always intrigued when I see “patterns” in a text, particularly the Scriptures.  These patterns might also be described as “similarities,” or “repeated phrases,” or “repeated themes,” for these patterns reveal helpful insights into the truths of the biblical teachings, the “mysteries” that the Holy Spirit desires to reveal to us.  

One such pattern is found in the following verses:

  • When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:12).
  • But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).
  • For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:23-25).

Beholding As In a Mirror

By reading these passages closely you will see that they all use the example of “looking into a mirror” to reveal how we are to see ourselves–not as we think we are but as we truly are.
The pattern revealed in these similar passages first highlights the perspectives of looking into the mirror as a “child,” or with a “veiled” face, or by merely seeing the “natural face” that appears.  This image may quickly be forgotten, while the image that appears in the “perfect law of liberty,” or a different kind of mirror, is an image that once adhered to leads to being blessed in all that we do. 
A significant indicator, therefore, of spiritual maturity is the ability to see ourselves consistently not through our natural senses but through the perspectives, we gain by “thinking with the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16), or seeing ourselves as Christ sees us.  

While no record exists of Larry Newman’s encountering Jesus Christ and finding eternal salvation through Him, he did escape earthly destruction by viewing and identifying with human encounters through the examples of Shakespeare’s plays which enabled him to reorder his thoughts and find new directions not based on his previous misconceptions about life and death.  

Ironically, however, Shakespeare’s plays do not provide the same kind of freedom and liberty that the Word of God provides, for His Word is “perfect”:

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

Sadly, many representations in our culture today have stated that not only is God dead, but also Truth is dead, as portrayed on a recent edition of Time Magazine (Source).

April 8, 1966

Commenting on these covers, Jonathan Van Maren writes,

As far as our culture is concerned, God is dead, and so is truth. An institution no less respected than TIME Magazine announced their respective departures from the culture. But I can’t help but think of the origin of the phrase “God is dead.” It came from the nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietszche, in his parable “The Madman,” where he wondered with appropriate panic, where morality would come from once God left (Source).

Van Maren continues to expose the latest examples of the opposition of fact and fiction:

We now reject every constraint on our own so-called right to radical self-determination, even if those constraints are biology and reality. That is why a full-grown man can decide to leave his family and live as a six-year-old girl, and the media coverage of this is largely subdued and respectful. That is why there is a new group of human beings who identify as non-human beings—rather, they are “Otherkin,” people who identify as certain animals. This is treated with long-faced solemnity by our cultural elites, because truth is dead and people can be whatever they want, even if they are obviously not what or who they say they are (Source).

Larry Newman found much freedom, not by denying the truths about himself and his life but by acknowledging the truths about his mistakes and misconceptions about himself.  May God give him the grace to see all the way to “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:16).

 

The Mystery of Lawlessness

Will The AntiChrist Be Revealed on August 30th?

I recently saw and heard a message by a prominent TV Evangelist, who preached that the AntiChrist would be revealed on August 30, 2016 (today!).  Here is my response to his message:

In his Second Letter to the Church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul wrote about the conditions of lawlessness that would exist in the world prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (II Thessalonians 2:1-2)

Evidently, the Thessalonians believed  that Jesus had already returned to claim his Church and that they had been left behind.

Paul explained in explicit terms, however, that they should not be so deceived in any way, for several events needed to take place before Christ’s actual return:

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (II Thessalonians 2:3-4)

Personally, I believe that many of the prophecies (see Matthew 24 and Mark 13) about the AntiChrist, Jerusalem’s being surrounded by armies, about earthquakes, the great tribulation, and the ensuing destruction of the Temple relate to the events in Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D., when Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian, and the same Titus who eventually became the Emperor of Rome himself, invaded the city with his legions of Roman soldiers, killing many Jews and destroying the Second Temple built by King Herod.  It is believed that Titus did not want to destroy the Temple, but instead wanted to convert it into a Roman temple for the worship of Roman gods (see below). He wanted no rewards for his conquest of Jerusalem, claiming only to be an “instrument of god’s wrath” (Source).  

And while Titus himself tried to divert beliefs in his own deity, in spite of the political advantages, he was clearly complicit in the supposed “deification” of his father, Vespasian:

Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation.

Despite a personal aversion to deification, appeals to godly ancestry and the apparent slew of omens following him throughout his lifetime, Vespasian utilised provincial interests in his divine right to rule to maintain loyalty to the imperial centre in his living years, and spent less than a year in mortal death before his successor placed his name among the deified Julio-Claudian emperors. (Source)

The Mystery of Lawlessness

Paul, however, wrote the following description of the events to come before the return of Christ, (I again am referring to Paul’s Second letter to the Thessalonians):

Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason, God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (II Thessalonians 2:5-12)

While Titus himself sought to separate himself from claims of deity, he took direct action to ensure that his father, Emperor Vespasian, received divine recognition:

Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation. (Source)

. . . .Vespasian was said to have possessed numen, which can be received by animals and inanimate objects, through Suetonius’ account of an ox which broke free of its yoke to burst into Vespasian’s dining room and bow its head at his feet, implying the process of freeing Rome from tyranny and submitting to a new welcome ruler. This sign of change heralded by supernatural events emerged frequently (during Vespasian’s rule. . . . Furthermore, Suetonius, however unreliably, also spoke of a stray dog which burst into Vespasian’s dining quarters and placed a severed hand at his feet, a sign to Roman society of divinity and inherent power. . . .In an attempt to maintain his auctoritas within the empire’s provinces, which Tacitus claimed he was lacking, Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria in AD 69 witnessed his public performance of miracles in apparent collaboration with the god Serapis to maintain provincial loyalty, healing two Alexandrians, one blind and one lame, despite his own doubt in his divine power. (Source)

Please note the references in this quotation to the “signs and wonders” attributed to Vespasian.  This description mirrors the one Paul writes about:  “One whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish”  (II Thessalonians 2:10-11). And Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria occurred in A.D. 69, just one year before his son’s military triumph in Jerusalem.

The Apostasy

Paul’s teaching is also clear for us today that the “Day of the Lord” has still not arrived, for a number of events have yet to happened.  Unless we are deluding ourselves, for example, the “apostasy” has not yet occurred, and even though many Christians seem to be losing their trust in God and falling away from the Faith, the Lord’s Church is still growing and increasing proportionally overall, even in countries like Cuba and China, or in Muslim countries, where Christianity is vehemently opposed.

The Apostle John had something specific to say about this question:

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were notreally of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.  (I John 2:18-19)

Nevertheless, Paul also wrote that “the mystery of lawlessness” is “already at work,” a condition that today seems just as prominent, and one that appears to be growing and increasing.  We need to discern what this “mystery of lawlessness” is, therefore, in order not to fall prey to deception ourselves.

What Is Lawlessness?

Paul provides a clue for understanding what the “mystery of lawlessness” is in verse 10 of II Thessalonians, Chapter 2:10-11:  Paul wrote that the “lawless one will be revealed,” who will appear with “all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”

We see from this description that resisting a “love of the truth” is what hinders people from being saved, a condition that leads to “lawlessness.”  In our world today, unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing trend towards lawlessness, which means also that people no longer have a love of the truth and are increasingly inclined to break the laws of the land.

My Experiences with Seeking The Truth

As a high school English teacher, and eventually a university English professor, I prepared with 12 years of college level education classes beyond high school.  My motive was not only to gain the knowledge and skills I needed to obtain a good teaching position, but also to learn about the world I lived in.  I survived any number of classes that I intuitively knew would not help me become an English teacher, such as Calculus and Chemistry, yet I still gained a level of wisdom, having experienced large portions of the world’s history and knowledge that was most likely beyond my reach intellectually. (I had to take an Introduction to Calculus class pass/fail, for example!)  

I can’t say that I loved some of the classes I took, but I loved learning, and I love learning to this day. In 1970, when I began my classes in higher education, I wanted to learn the truth about history, mathematics, philosophy, and music.  And in those days, it was believed that the truth could be discovered by uncovering facts and using sound logic.  

In the fall of 1972, when I began my classes in graduate education, I still wanted to learn the truth about history, mathematics, philosophy, and music.  And in those days, I still believed that the truth could be discovered by uncovering facts and using sound logic or using background information to judge an author’s intentions.  Imagine my surprise, however, when as a post-graduate student in my Master’s program I found that literature professors and experts no longer believed that the written word was definitive; they believed that it could never be deciphered and understood accurately with certainty.  

Imagine my surprise, however, when as a post-graduate student in my Master’s program I found that literature professors and other academic experts no longer believed that the written word was definitive; they believed that it could never be deciphered and understood accurately with certainty.  I was told that the words I was reading in a poem or story changed all the time, just because I was reading them!

I also discovered that even the facts of history were “open to interpretation,” and that the lessons of history were at that time subject to opinion and these opinions could even be revised for propaganda purposes.  I found that many arguments in favor of one political or strategic direction, for example, could be made on both sides of an argument, and people would feel satisfied that they had found the right answer or the correct direction to take.  It was commonly stated that “everyone has a right to his or her own opinion,” a belief that made everyone’s opinion equally valid since there was no way we could ultimately find the “truth” about any matter.  We all were supposed to believe like Pontius Pilate, who said, “What is truth?”  No longer was finding “absolute truth” possible. In academia, it all became a matter of “who makes the best case/argument.”

Today, conditions have devolved to the point where the truths of Scripture and the standards declared in the U.S. Constitution are no longer sufficient to reveal the truth about how we should live our lives. One reason Christians are so despised in today’s culture is that Christians believe that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and that the Scriptures reveal the truth about who we are and what our place is in this world.  Thus, we Christians are declared to be ignorant fools who believe in “fairy tales.”  And many of today’s political leaders no longer feel inclined to follow the strictures of the U.S. Constitution, in spite of their oaths to do so.  

If you want to see the lawlessness that commonly exists in our culture, a lawlessness that is based on the lack of a “love of the truth,” you have only to look at the many comments and replies to articles or posts on the internet.  Instead of sound logic or appeals to factual authority, arguments are most typically made using obscenities or name calling (ad hominem attacks, a logical fallacy indeed!).  

The Results of Lawlessness

I do not mean to imply that we need to become legalistic, seeking only to follow rules and regulations, for “We have been set free from the Law of sin and death”:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:1-3).  

Paul’s message to us today is the same as the one he wrote so many years ago.  We must not be deceived by the “mystery of lawlessness.”

On the other hand, here are some of the consequences in today’s world of lawlessness and the refusal to seek after, and love, the Truth:

  • An increase in “wickedness.”  Believing and practicing what is evil or bad.
  • The increasing rejection and turning away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the educational and political realms, a refusal even to consider biblical claims.
  • A lack of respect for those in authority, whose job it is to enforce the laws of the land.
  • We have been influenced by a “deluding influence so that people believe what is false,” as Paul describes it in II Thessalonians 2:11.

Based on these conditions, I do not doubt that the “man of lawlessness” may soon be revealed for who he is.

However, Jesus was explicitly clear about these questions He replied to His disciples when they asked Him “When will these things be?” (Mark 13:4):

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

“Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. (Matthew 13:24-33).

Conclusion

I am nearly 70 years old, and I have yet to hear any predictions about the End Times, particularly those that include dates and years, that have come true.  As it is, the sun has now set on August 30th, and I have yet to learn exactly who the Antichrist is.

 

What Is the Nature of True Confession?

True Humility Versus False Humility

What is humility?  It is the quality or condition of being humble, of having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, status, or rank.  

It is surprising to me, however, how many in the Church, especially those who may lead in prayer or praise ministries, take on a false humility by focusing on their own “unworthiness,” telling the congregation that they, and we, all are nothing more than “ugly sinners saved by grace,” or “dead in our trespasses and sins, not worthy to invoke or receive the promises of God.”

One of the most relevant passages in one of the most significant books of the New Testament, however, declares the falsity of these statements.  In fact, such declarations are fully demonstrated to be examples of false humility by the Apostle Paul.

Paul states to the Corinthian Church why true believers are no longer defined by a sinful nature as they once were before coming to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer from sin:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In itself, this verse alone couldn’t be more clear in revealing to us who we are in Christ Jesus:  If we are “in Christ,” we have a “new” nature, for we are now a “new creature.”  

Paul elsewhere describes our former sinful nature as the “old man,” as opposed to the “new man” we have become in Christ:

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. (Colossians 3:9-10)

And Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to act on the new standing they have obtained in Christ:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (Ephesians 4:20-23)

Being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” simply means that we need to change our minds about who we are in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Teaching to the Romans

Paul further expounds on these truths in depth in his letter to the Romans, as he writes in the following passage from Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6.  I have underlined some of the most relevant portions of the text:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!  Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that  though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6)

 

Looking Ahead and Not Backwards

I just heard from someone the other day who gave me a very simple guideline for living victoriously.  She said that when we drive, we don’t just look at the rearview mirror.  If we only did that, we would eventually crash!  Instead, we need to look forward to the future with expectant hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has not only forgiven us of all our sins, but also redeemed us from their curse of eternal separation from God.

Let me be clear.  I am not saying that we have never sinned.  In order to receive Jesus as Lord, we need to confess all of our sins, as the Apostle John writes:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

However, if we have been forgiven and redeemed, we need to act like we have been transformed by His power and consider ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ! Above all, we must not continue in sinful behaviors and practices, then publicly confess to relieve our consciences.  

To those who mistakenly believe that we need to denigrate the finished work of Christ in order to make unbelievers comfortable in our presence, I suggest that they do not go on presenting the members of their bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness by seeing themselves as sinners. Instead, believe and confess that you have been “born again” in Christ’s likeness.  As a result of this rebirth, you are no longer “such a worm,” as the old hymn “At the Cross” suggests (These are Isaac Watt’s lyrics; see this site: Watt.)

My Anchor Holds

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While my wife and I have been on several enjoyable ship cruises, I have been on the ocean in a small boat only a few times.  My horrible seasickness during a fishing trip was enough to convince me that the ups and downs of the ocean were not very pleasant.

However, at one point, we even bought a small boat to use for fishing in the Pacific Ocean, but mainly we bought it to give the boat to my father-in-law, who was a particularly enthusiastic fisherman.  Trying to “fix” the boat to make it suitable for a gift, we learned quickly that a boat can indeed be a “hole in the water that you pour your money into.”

I confess that I am not an expert on boats or naval paraphernalia, including anchors. I have only owned one anchor used for a boat, but I rarely used it since we usually just tied up at the dock and didn’t try to stay stationary in the water to fish (to avoid sea sickness!).  

The use of an anchor in biblical New Testament times is clearly seen in the Bible, however, so understanding how anchors function helps us understand the Scriptural passages that include anchors.

The Apostle Paul’s Mediterranean Cruise

An understanding of anchors is particularly helpful when reading the 27th Chapter of Acts of the Apostles, a passage which includes the story of Paul’s journey to Rome while under arrest by Roman guards.  At one point during the journey, the following events take place as described by Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles:

Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:29-31)

In this story we gain insights even into the minds of experienced sailors as they attempted to escape the dangers of a terrible Mediterranean storm, while also avoiding the brutality of their Roman employers.  Notice also that the four anchors were released from the stern of the ship to keep it from being cast aground on the rocks of the coast.  

Luke’s next account reveals how the anchors were discarded when the boat’s crew mistakenly decided to head for the safety of the beach of a bay.  The boat indeed ran aground, leading to the breaking up of the ship.

When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. (Acts 27:39-41)

We see clearly from these accounts not only the value of ship’s anchors during storms but also their beneficial help in keeping the ship from becoming stuck fast and broken apart by the storm’s waves.

Most of us will never encounter such experiences in our lives, yet we all may experience the “storms of life,” perhaps even on a daily basis.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had anchors to hold us fast on the course the Lord has given us in our lives, as well as anchors to keep us from getting “stuck” and “immovable” when we are seeking to find peace and safety in this world?

In the Book of Hebrews, however, we find that we have indeed been given “anchors for our souls.”  The writer of Hebrews uses an example in the life of Abraham to demonstrate how this anchor keeps us steadfast, even in the worst storms and temptations in this life.

Seeing an anchor as being a beneficial help during a storm is somewhat of a mystery, for anchors are heavy and they usually are used to keep a ship from moving at all.    

Abraham’s Faith and Hope

After first warning Christians about the “perils of falling away,” the writer of the Book of Hebrews exhorts believers instead to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).

. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

This passage is unclear unless we can determine what the “two unchangeable things” are.  God’s promise to Abram is the first unchangeable thing:

For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he [Abraham] obtained the promise.

Abraham, therefore, received the promise of God first because of the reliability of God’s Word.  To show the “unchangeableness of His purpose,” God also made an oath, the second of the two “unchangeable things.”

For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:13-18).

These two unchangeable things mean that “it is impossible for God to lie.” Therefore, we may be assured that the promises of God are “sure and steadfast”:  

We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

Our ability to look forward to the future with hope is both sure and steadfast because the Word of God is sure and steadfast. Both of these words mean dependable, reliable, true, constant, and trustworthy.  

We must conclude, therefore, that since the Word of God is dependable and trustworthy, we who have received the promise of God may look forward to the future with joyful anticipation, knowing that the promises made to us will be fulfilled.  And this means we have hope, which is the “anchor for our soul.”  

This anchor, in turn, will keep us steadfast and true; in nautical terms, we will “stay the course,” and not depart from the will of the Lord or stray from His purpose for our lives.  The hope we have in the promises of God will keep us steadfast during the storms of life, especially because this hope we have “enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” 

This “veil” is the curtain in the temple was placed between the “Inner Sanctuary” and the “Holy of Holies” where God’s sacred presence was.  When Jesus was crucified, this temple veil was rent, or torn, from top to bottom, signifying that Jesus the Lamb of God was the perfect sacrifice which did away with sin.  And Jesus became our High Priest who as our forerunner became our mediator, the One who allows us also to come into God’s presence. Jesus became the great High Priest who intercedes for us continually before the Father. 

This passage in Hebrews 6 also implies also that we have a choice in whether we will take hold of God’s anchor for our soul, the hope we have in His promises:

. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:16)

We have been given “strong encouragement” to take hold of the hope we have been given, but the choice is still ours.  The more we learn about the steadfastness of God’s Word, the easier it will be to receive the anchor we need to keep us on the course set before us and have peace in the midst of the storms of this life.  And hope is the anchor that keeps us firmly directed and safe in the many storms that arise in this world.

Hope Does Not Disappoint

Finally, the Apostle Paul summarizes our hope in the promises of God through Jesus Christ:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

Not only do we have peace during times of tribulation, therefore, but we may also exult, which means we may feel a lively and triumphant joy.  We may rejoice exceedingly and be highly elated or jubilant, all because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the gift of His Holy Spirit.  Praise His name!

 

Reading the Scriptures Honestly

Rightly Reading and Interpreting

God’s Word

One essential belief of most evangelical churches today is that the Word of God, the Scriptures, must be read, understood, and received “literally,” as in the following quotation:  

Do you approach all of the passages in the Bible from a consistently literal viewpoint, seeking to understand the language of the Bible in a natural and normal way, understanding the language in its obvious sense? May God help us to come to His Word in simple childlike faith and humbly take Him at His Word, letting the Bible say what it says, and not forcing it to say what we want it to say or think it should say!

In other words, we must not seek to read into the Scriptures what we want them to say according to our own beliefs, but instead to take from the Scriptures what they actually say, according to a “normal” reading, not a “solipsistic” (or extremely egocentric) reading.  

(See my recent Blog article that includes a discussion of Solipsism by clicking here).

Examples of Misreadings

Several passages from the Scriptures reveal the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15), such as what John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

The Apostle Peter also makes a similar statement:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.  (II Peter 1:20-21)

We must assume, therefore, that God’s Word is His Word, and He meant what He said, or what He communicated to His servants to write.  

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16)

Recently, I have found that some well-meaning Christians have tended not to interpret the Scriptures according to a normal, or obvious, interpretation.  Typically, they may faithfully adhere to their Church’s Statement of Faith/Belief, or merely repeat what they learned in seminary or read in a famous teacher’s book.  Plus, they may tend to disregard certain verses that may seem to contradict their preferred teachings.

See for example, the following passage:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:11-14).

I was using this passage in a teaching to show that the ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers were given to the Church for a number of reasons, but the timeline is clearly stated: These ministries were given to protect Christians from false teachings until. . .” 1.) we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, 2.) to a mature man, 3.) to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13).  

A plain, normal understanding of this passage shows, therefore, that these ministry gifts are to be in operation until these conditions have been met, conditions which clearly do not exist in the Church today.  

It must be, therefore, that these ministries need to be fully functioning in the Church, not dismissed or negated, as some recent teachings, such as the following, have proclaimed:

Like the apostles, however, their office ceased with the completion of the New Testament, just as the Old Testament prophets disappeared when that testament was completed, some 400 years before Christ. The church was established “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). Once the foundation was laid, the work of the apostles and prophets was finished. (First Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1984], pp. 322–24) (Source).

Here is the primary passage, again from the Apostle Paul, used to demonstrate that the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the “ministry gifts” (See I Corinthians 12:27-28 below) have passed away and are no longer functioning in the Church:

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Paul continues in I Corinthians 13:8-11 to say,

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” 

This passage, in particular, has been interpreted to mean that the Church has become mature and no longer needs the kind of help a “child” needs, especially since the “perfect” has come, meaning the completed Scriptures, presumably even anachronistically including the rest of Paul’s letters and John’s Book of Revelation.

Since we have the Bible, it is assumed, we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment, in spite of the demonic age in which we live.  We no longer need words of edification and exhortation (prophecy) or the gift of faith.

Frankly, however, having lived and grown in numerous Churches from infancy, I have yet to encounter any local Church that is “mature,” or  no longer needed the “childish things” that the Holy Spirit provides.  In fact, the Lord Jesus gave the following message to His disciples before His ascension:  

 “But before all these things [His Second Coming], they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15)

Jesus, therefore, promised that the words and wisdom we will need when we face persecution will be provided to us.  In fact, Jesus told His followers that through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would be His witnesses to the whole world before His coming again:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

We might easily conclude, therefore, that the promise of the Holy Spirit was given not only to the early Church, but also to the Church of all ages until His coming again.  Jesus Himself is the “perfect” who is to come.

The term Apostle, according to the Greek language, means “one who is sent away” to deliver a message or messages.  In some ways, our term “missionary” very much conforms to this idea, and, significantly, this word is based on the Latin translation of the Greek word (Source).  

In a sense, therefore, we continue to have Apostles in the Church today.  Any person who declares that He is an apostle, however, is probably not an apostle, given the abuses such a person usually inflicts on Believers for his own gain.  It is no wonder, therefore, why so many churches have taught that this particular ministry gift is no longer viable today, even in spite of the Scriptural mandates for these ministries.  

The ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to ensure that we believers mature and not be led astray by false teachings.  Not surprisingly, the Church today is weakened constantly by such teachings which declare that ministry gifts such as apostles and prophets are no longer valid in the Church, leading to divisions and strife, as well as a lack of maturity in the Body of Christ.  

Another Example

The following verses from the Book of Hebrews contain a warning, one which would not have been written were it not significantly important.  See if you recognize the warning:

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

Understood according to the strictures of literal interpretation, this passage may nevertheless be disturbing to those who have accepted the “once saved always saved” teaching so common among evangelicals today.  Also termed “The Security of the Believer,” this teaching contains an important promise and blessing most Christians accept, providing as it does the assurance that the love of God is “unconditional,” as the Apostle Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

This security is for the believer, however, not the unbeliever. Therefore, the passage in Hebrews serves as a warning to the complacent and those who at some point in their lives may not decide to continue to make Jesus Lord of their lives.  The passage in Hebrews makes clear that those being warned are true believers, for they have done the following:  They have 1.) been enlightened, 2.) tasted of the Heavenly gift, 3.) have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 4.) and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.

These conditions refute the proposal that those who “fall away” were never truly born-again believers in the first place, so they were never truly saved from their sins by the blood and Lordship of Jesus.  Therefore, it is said, they have fallen away from what was never theirs.  

Unfortunately, however, this theory does not adhere to the plain language of the passage in Hebrews.  The warning is clear to all who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord:  Do not fall away, or it may be impossible to renew you to repentance, having again crucified again the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  

Although this may be an extreme example, the warning still pertains to all Christians.  In particular, it does not allow for opportunities to engage in sinful behaviors without reaping the resulting consequences.  These sinful behaviors are prohibited precisely because they result in harmful effects in the lives of those who engage in them.  Adultery, for example, devastates the lives of those who choose it, as well as the lives of the innocent children. Fornication and other sexual sins are equally harmful, and true followers of Jesus cannot remain faithful to their promises to Him while engaging in these sins.  

Unfortunately, the “once saved, always saved” teaching, while providing assurance of God’s faithfulness to the Believer, nevertheless tends to imply the idea that sinful lives are acceptable to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What Is True Repentance?

In the context of a short story or novel we might be reading in a college English class, I often asked the following questions of my students:  

How many of you believe that all people are innately evil? How many believe people are innately good, but may do some evil things occasionally?

Significantly, most students showed by raising their hands their belief that people were innately good.  Class discussion revealed their belief that it was only the influence of such problems as poverty or a lack of education that made people do evil things. Thus, simply relieving people of their deficiencies in food, shelter, or comfort would mean such acts as theft, lying, or even murder would cease in our world.

The consequence of this belief is that our culture today seems focused on convincing everyone, beginning with children, that they need to “accept” themselves for who they are and that their ideas or thoughts are natural and normal for them, even if not for anyone else.  Self-acceptance is seen as the first step towards normality. Being “assertive” is seen as a positive attribute, even though some behaviors may lead to the point of violating the lives of others.

And feeling guilty for any action is perceived as self-destructive, so every effort must be made just to “be who we are,” accept ourselves and others without demanding change. Any criticism of a person’s appearance or behavior is seen as bigoted or hateful, even if they may possibly be hurtful to themselves or others.

To subtly show my students in a secular environment, at least in a preliminary way, how humans are not “noble savages” but selfish and even evil, I shared my experiences as a parent and as an observer of other parents that a child never needs to be taught how to lie, or steal, or disobey, a point on which the students agreed. On the other hand, I argued, a child needs to be taught from the beginning what is selfish or rebellious, and children need to be shown how to be loving and kind.

Just on an experiential level, therefore, this illustration showed that all human beings are sinful by nature.  In spiritual terms, we all are sinful, not just because we all have inherited Adam’s sinfulness, but also because we do not have the presence of God in our lives, the same closeness Adam and Eve once had with God walking with Him in the Garden of Eden.  This relationship was lost due to their disobedience and willingness to listen to the temptations of the serpent, or Satan.

Having A Conscience

Even so, most people at least have a conscience, an “inner voice” that tells them when they are disobedient or rebellious, one that is imparted at least culturally or through peer pressure.

Recent studies have shown, however, that some people (one in twenty-five is the number estimated) have no conscience whatsoever, and they feel no guilt, shame, or remorse for their selfish or rebellious behaviors. They only feel frustration or remorse if they are exposed or caught in their malicious behaviors, rather than feeling any true guilt or sorrow.  They become more intent on hiding their behaviors in the future to avoid the negative social pressures of being uncovered, the only immediate consequences of their actions.

This condition is labeled psychopathic in psychological terms, or more benignly as “antisocial personality disorder.”  

Even psychopaths may be forgiven, redeemed, and changed, however, for the Scriptures teach that even though “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all may be saved from the deadly consequences of sin.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Sin Is Universal

The Apostle John explains the sinful existence of all human beings:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, among many others, also taught in his letters that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul uses the term “old man” to described the sinful nature that must die in order for the new creation in Christ my fully live.  This new creation, the “new man,”  is what Jesus referred to as being “born again.”

Paul also says that his “inner man” is constantly waging war against the law of sin in his body:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)

Christ Jesus is the Way, Paul says, and the Apostle continues to provide the solution for this warfare:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

Rather than trying to follow the Law perfectly, as many try to do through “will power,” which only serves to worsen our guilt, the Apostle Paul writes that following the rules of the Law legalistically is impossible.  It is a course that is destined to end in defeat and failure. Instead, we must be set free to walk in the new Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, or in Christ’s own words, being “born again.”

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In order to become like Christ, consequently, two steps need to be taken.  First, we need to repent of our sins, and second we need to be born again, or to receive the new nature that is the Spirit of Christ.

True Repentance

Although being born again is a gift of God by His grace, repentance is not a gift but a necessity, an obligation. Just as Adam’s sin was the result of an act of the will, or free choice, so repentance is determined by one’s own decision by the grace of God.  

Why is true repentance so difficult?  It means we have to make a decision to die to our old lives first in order to be born again.  We have to admit that we were mistaken or wrong, that we have been traveling in the wrong direction and need to turn around. Paul writes,

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:2o)

Many believe that repentance means just being sorry for the sins in their lives. However, true repentance means that we must turn from the direction we are traveling and go back in the opposite direction.  It’s a complete turnaround, one which says, “I will no longer go in that direction.”

Therefore, unless we are suffering from the evil consequences in our lives, repentance from sin is usually extremely difficult for us, for a number of reasons.  

First, most sins are pleasurable, at least initially before the ultimate consequences are known or discovered.

Second, to completely change one’s habits, lifestyle, or “sexual orientation,” for example, seems to be cruel and contrary to the freedoms we should all be allowed to enjoy.  Anyone who even suggests such a reversal is described at hateful and bigoted, even if the future consequences are certain, if not in this life at least in the next.

Yet how is it hateful to warn someone who is about to walk over the edge of a cliff to certain death or destruction?

Dying to Self

This is why repentance in the Church is symbolized by baptism in water, a symbolic way of dying, as Paul explains our in the following passage from Romans:

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

When we are baptized, we declare to the world, to Satan, and to ourselves that we have repented of our sins and intend to live a life of freedom from sin.

Clearly, baptism today has been practiced either without true repentance, as in infant baptism, or not at all, for many in the church today have either not been baptized at all, or they continue to live in sinful conditions. Some even have served in church ministry, yet never taken a stand publicly and openly declared both their repentance and their determination no longer to be a slave to sin.

 

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Available Now!

My new book is now available in eBook format.  Among other sites, find it in Kindle, Nook by clicking on the following links:  

Kindle on Amazon

Nook on Barnes and Noble

 

Sparks Pic

 

About this Book:

In these pages I share and explain insights into biblical “mysteries,” a word used by both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. I begin with methods of biblical interpretation, including how to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, then I proceed to reveal insights into a number of perplexing biblical “mysteries.” In doing so, I use both historical fiction and autobiographical approaches to help the ideas come alive.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Corinthians. 2:14). Consequently, I seek to explain how to search the Scriptures wisely, beginning with some simple methods that help uncover the spiritual depths of the Words of God, not just their literal meanings.

With this foundation, I then lead the reader through a number of lessons necessary for seeing in the Spirit, seeking foremost to define what Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and others meant by this term “mystery,” a word often used to describe the secrets that God desires to reveal to us: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden” (I Corinthians 2:7).

What Was Jesus’ “Orientation”?

We all have unique perspectives from which we understand our universe, including how we read, examine, and live by the Word of God.  Some philosophers have concluded that there is nothing that can be known outside of the “self,” a very self-centered philosophy indeed! 

This is why Christ gave us the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the true paths of the straight and narrow way.  The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, who reveals the will and purposes of the Father to us.

On a secular level, I often discussed the concept of solipsism in my literature classes as we analyzed a literary text, focusing on the consequences of seeing the world only through a narrow vision of reality.  

Solipsism is the philosophical theory that only the self exists, or at least the only reality that can be proven to exist. Thus, a solipsistic view sees only what appears through the lens of one’s own eye. Rene Descartes originated the idea that “I think therefore I am,” or in Latin, Cogito ergo sum.

In today’s “post-modern” world, the idea permeates our culture that any interpretation of reality is acceptable, for “It’s a matter of personal opinion,” and, “Who is to say that one opinion is right and another is wrong?”  It is wrong to judge another person’s views, it is believed, although doing so often occurs.

Many fallacies arise solipsistic thinking, of course, but my students and I were often engaged by seeing the solipsistic ideas of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, for example, for his life was consumed and destroyed by his narrow and narcissistic views of his own false perspectives of reality.   

One question that has arisen of late, and it’s one that will bluntly be asked more often and more in the days ahead, is whether Jesus was sexually active, and even more blasphemously whether He was a homosexual.  

Interestingly enough, one website that purports objectively to examine this issue uses the following guideline to oppose Christians who may never have considered the possibility that “Jesus was gay”:

On the other hand, there is an often quoted concept that reading the Gospels is like looking down a well. What you see in both cases is a reflection of yourself. Social activists often view Jesus as a social activist. Spiritual people frequently look upon Jesus as spiritual. Heterosexuals may see at Jesus as a heterosexual. Homosexuals may look upon him as gay, etc. (Source)

This website consists of people who are “a multi-faith group,” consisting of such beliefs as atheist, agnostic, Christian, Wiccan, and Zen Buddhist, and their goal is “religious tolerance,” which essentially means that we can believe what we wish as long as we all get along together.  

Thus, the article from this website on the subject of Christ’s sexuality is clearly intended to introduce the possibility of Christ’s sexuality to those of us who are dogmatic and intolerant, in order to make the currently discussed views of human sexuality both normal and acceptable.  Showing that Jesus was similarly tolerant and even a participant in such sexual activity is likely seen as an acceptable way to change the minds of hating and bigoted people and to make them more tolerant of those in our world who engage in such sexual proclivities.

Consequently, it is believed, there are as many views of what is “true” as there are faces and wells to look down, but as long as we choose not to be intolerant, we may all coexist together without hatred, prejudice, and persecution.

However, while we are all taught today to be tolerant and accepting of those with other beliefs, Jesus Christ Himself seemed intolerant at times.  Witness His views of some of the religious leaders of His time, in addition to His future world-wide judgment that will separate the sheep from the goats  (see, for example, Matthew 23:13-36).

An Example of Solipsism

Rollan McCleary is a British-born Australian who, based on his own homosexual experiences and writings about astrology, has concluded that Jesus was a homosexual:

He uses Jesus’ “astrological chart” — the planet Uranus figures prominently, as in the case with many homosexuals, he says — and argues that there are clues in the Bible to back up his views. In the Gospel of John, the disciple John frequently refers to himself in the third person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” McCleary thinks this is highly significant. . . .”You maybe have to be gay to read the signals and to see things and research things which other people wouldn’t,” he added.

[Found in:  Rollan McCleary, “A Special Illumination: Authority, Inspiration and Heresy in Gay Spirituality,” David Brown Book Co., (2004)]

In other words, McClearly’s own solipsistic perspectives led him to believe that Jesus was gay. He also relates that his own knowledge of astrology reveals that Jesus’ horoscope included the planet Uranus, a sign that supposedly figures prominently in the charts of many homosexuals.  

It is not clear how McClearly was able to determine the astrological chart of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, for He was “in the beginning” (John 1:1), and His exact birth date on Earth is unknown.

Even if an astrological chart could accurately predict Jesus’ sexual orientation, the task of creating such a chart appears quite impossible. Dr. McCleary told Australian Broadcasting Commission radio, howevver, that 

In the past, “one or two queer theologians” had attempted to show Jesus was gay. “People haven’t taken them very seriously because they don’t have any evidence and they say things so sensationally that people are not really going to listen or just be very angry. What I’m doing is showing a much more theological and also astrological dimension on all this which will make a lot more sense to people.” (Ibid.)

Dr. McCleary definitely must be looking down the well and seeing only what he wants to see.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Overall, general agreement exists even among those who argue Jesus’ sexual orientation that the Scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of His sexuality.  Still, it is usually implied that the New Testament writers either chose to bury any rumors or suggestions that Jesus was sexually active or that any such passages were deleted by later clerics and clergymen. 

It is further assumed that even Christ’s overt advocacy of opposite-sex marriage and the Mosaic law provides no insight into any personal sexual orientation or practices.  Likewise, it is said, the Scriptures are also silent on whether Jesus was single or married, childless or with children.

Jesus’ views of sexuality, including homosexuality, are manifestly clear in the Scriptures to logical and non-solipsistic minds, however, for otherwise He would have been exposed as manifestly hypocritical.  He would be open to assuming the same role he derided in those Pharisees He exposed as hypocrites and sinners.

Since the Pharisees accused Jesus of being possessed with demons and consorting with prostitutes, they surely would have accused Him of sodomy if there had been any possibility of immorality, a situation that is admitted even by the Religious Tolerance website:

If Jesus were gay, and if the Jewish establishment knew of his orientation, they would certainly have used it against him. Yet there is no record in the Gospels or in subsequent Jewish literature of the topic ever having been mentioned. (Source)

Jesus’ Own Declaration

Jesus taught the scriptural view that God made a man and a woman for the purpose of exclusive marriage.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

Jesus then clarified His teaching further in the following verse by saying,

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

Significantly, when Jesus is further queried by His disciples (they wonder why anyone would want to marry), Jesus shows a unique perspective on sexuality, one that most likely pertains to His own life:

But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

Jesus Himself is therefore revealing His own sexual nature, yet stating that He chooses to abstain from all sexual behaviors or acts “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”  Therefore, although it was uncommon for Jewish males to remain unmarried, particularly if they were rabbis.  The Essenes were a sect that practiced abstinence, for example: 

There can be no doubt that many Essenes (scholars say that some might have been married) chose to be unmarried. According to Philo and Josephus, they did so because they thought that women had a negative impact on men. There’s no reason to believe that Jesus shared this perspective. But He did join the Essenes in accepting an apocalyptic worldview that anticipated the coming of God’s kingdom. (Source)

More Illogical Interpretations

Today, we witness only the beginning of the efforts to recruit Jesus into the LGBT, etc. army.  These improbable interpretations of the Scriptures range from the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, to the suggestion that Jesus and the “disciple that Jesus loved” were a homosexual couple:

Patrick Goodenough, referring to the passage in John’s Gospel, wrote:

One might argue that Jesus loved all of his followers in a non-sexual way. Thus to identify Jesus’ love for John in a special way might indicate a sexual relationship. The disciple was “the” beloved. He was in a class by himself. (Source)

And quoting Robert Goss concerning the same passage, Goodenough argues that since Jesus and the beloved disciple ate together side by side they must have been sexually intimate:

What’s being portrayed here is a pederastic relationship between an older man and a younger man. A Greek reader would understand. (Source)

A number of passages in John’s Gospel describe the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” including John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, and 21:20.  The repetition of this phrase is seen as proof that Jesus loved John intimately, though this conclusion is illogical.  John was merely using a “third-person” perspective to speak of himself to avoid calling inordinate attention to his own presence.  

Specifically, the story about the Last Supper when one of the disciples whom “Jesus loved” asks Jesus which disciple would betray Him is mentioned.  This disciple, presumably John, is described as “leaning back on Jesus bosom,” and this intimacy is seen a proof that Jesus and John were sexual partners (see John 13:21-26).  

This conclusion is highly illogical, however, a typical example of a “hasty conclusion”‘ fallacy.  The disciples were all informally reclining at the table, as was usual–the reason why their feet needed to be washed.  As they ate and shared the meal together, it was highly likely that they would have touched one another in many ways, just as males today in America may have contact with one another in non-sexual ways such as teammates on a football or baseball team.

Another extreme example of solipsistic interpretations refers to the following passage:

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:  there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.  [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] (Mark 7:14-16)

Someone named “J Richards” has suggested that this passage “shows that Jesus approves of homosexual acts,” for the sentence refers to “dietary laws” and also applies to “blood transfusions, medication, organ transplants, and artificial insemination.” Therefore, Richards suggests, it could apply to homosexual acts as well (qtd. here Source, although the actual source no longer appears online).

This suggestion would be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly blasphemous and horribly unclean.

The Centurion’s Servant Healed

The story of the Roman Centurion’s servant is related in Matthew 8:5-13 and also in Luke 7:1-10, where the story is told in a fuller narration.  

In Matthew, the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus and makes his request that the servant be healed.  In Luke’s version, however, Jesus never actually speaks to the Centurion, but instead some Jewish elders were asked to make the request for healing. The difference is significant, for the reaction of Jesus to the Centurion’s faith is marvelously revealed in these differing circumstances: Whether the Centurion is speaking directly or only through the Jewish elders, the impact is the same, for faith is the result Jesus marvels about.

The following is the interpretation of the events by Michael Kelly, however, as quoted not only in the religioustolerance.org website, but also many others:

One day a Roman Centurion asked him to heal his dying servant. Scholars of both Scripture and Ancient History tell us that Roman Centurions, who were not permitted to marry while in service, regularly chose a favorite male slave to be their personal assistant and sexual servant. Such liaisons were common in the Greco-Roman world and it was not unusual for them to deepen into loving partnerships….Jesus offered to go to the servant, but the centurion asked him simply to speak a word of healing, since he was not worthy to welcome this itinerant Jewish teacher under his roof. Jesus responded by healing the servant [from a distance] and proclaiming that even in Israel he had never found faith like this! So, in the one Gospel story where Jesus encountered people sharing what we would call a “gay relationship,” we see him simply concerned about — and deeply moved by — their faith and love. Source

Kelly further implies that “Jesus’ sensitivity towards the gay couple might have arisen from his own bisexual or homosexual orientation.” (Source)

This interpretation is highly ironic, however, for Jesus neither sees nor talks with either the Centurion or the servant, yet the implication is that, first, there was a homosexual relationship between the two, and, second, that Jesus obviously approved of this relationship since He healed the servant.  This interpretation misses entirely the significance of the story, revealed by the Centurion’s statement that Jesus so approves of:

The centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:6-8)

Jesus instead only marvels at the Centurion’s faith:

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” (Luke 7:9)

Even More Ridiculous

An even more outrageous interpretation concerns the following passage from Mark’s Gospel, the account of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion:

A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked. (Mark 15:51-2)

Although the translations may vary, this is the result according to Peter Murphy:

We don’t know from the sources what really was going on, but we do know that something was very peculiar between Jesus and young men. (Source)

Equally ridiculous and illogical is the perspective taken on the story of the fallen woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. When Simon said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39), Jesus engages him in a dialogue that demonstrates not only Jesus’ forgiveness but also Simon’s hypocrisy.  

However, the point is made that Jesus seems upset that He received no kiss from Simon.  Anyone who assumes that Jesus is asking for a gay relationship with Simon must have drugged, for “kissing” in greetings were common in those days and were not sexual in nature, as Paul wrote: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16).

Many more examples of solipsistic thinking and interpretation are available in today’s culture, though searching for them and reading them has been nearly as onerous as reading a stack of freshman compositions.  

The Apostle Paul, however, gives some guidelines that reveal how to live our lives and read the Scriptures in non-solipsistic ways.  Since we are neither omniscient nor filled with all godly wisdom, we need to depend on the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all understanding. 

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  (James 3:13-18)

The Kingdom of God, Part VIII

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The End of All Things:  Revelation 21-22

Chapter 21 in Revelation begins with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth John sees after the final judgment described in the previous chapter, when death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)

Again, like other images in Revelation, this detail about the sea’s not existing should not be taken literally, although in a new Heaven and a new Earth there may indeed be no more water, as some teachers of Revelation have suggested, even though there is a “River of Life” flowing through the city.

I believe that the sea in verse one refers symbolically to humanity, which no longer exists on the earth, for all of the unredeemed rebellious people have been sent to the lake of fire, and all of the redeemed are seen as the “New Jerusalem.”  

The sea also symbolizes humanity in Chapter 13 of Revelation, where we see two “beasts,” one rising out of the sea and the other rising out of the earth.  The first is described specifically as devoted to speaking blasphemies against God and persecuting the Church.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in thebook of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:6-8)

The city called the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21 is also depicted as the bride in the following passage:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The speaker in the next few verses is clearly Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, or the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End!

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8)

This symbolic connection between the New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ is emphasized further in the next passage, for “one of the angels says to John, Come and see the Bride” (21:9), yet the vision John then sees is the holy city, the New Jerusalem:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:10-11)

 

What follows is an extensive and elaborate description of this magnificent city, including the dimensions, descriptions of the city gates, and the ornate composition of the walls and streets.

We need to be certain not to interpret these details literally, as though they describe a physical city, however.  Instead, the details are all symbolic, beginning with the picture of the “Lamb” and the temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)

Even the word “Lamb” is a symbol representing Jesus Christ who is described as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), a description which links Jesus to the lambs of the temple sacrifices of the Old Covenant that were sacrificed for the sins of the people.  Even these lambs were a pre-figured representation of the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Christ completed on the cross of His crucifixion, as described by Peter:

  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Peter 2:24)
  • For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (I Peter 3:18-19)

In addition, unlike what I was taught as a teenager, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place where all the saints will live, but instead consists of all of Christ’s saints, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and are built up as “living stones,” as the Apostle Peter relates:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, aprecious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (I Peter 2:4-6)

Further, John writes this about the Temple that is in the midst of the New Jerusalem, indicating that the Temple is an overall representation of the Church of Christ:

And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only thosewhose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

The Water and the Tree of Life

What follows in the next chapter, Revelation 22, is a description of the river of the water of life and the tree of life in the middle of the New Jerusalem, once again the symbolic representation of the Church, the Bride of Christ:

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
This passage alludes back to the story of the fall of humankind in the Book of Genesis, where the tree of life first appears in the Scriptures.  If you will recall, God told Adam that the Earth was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the couple was banished so they would no longer have access to the Tree of Life.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Geness 3:22-24)
Thus, as the passage relates, there will no longer be a curse on the land, and the light will appear not from the sun, moon, and stars, but from the Lord God.

The Final Messages in Revelation

Finally, in Revelation 22:6-21, we read the final messages at the end of John’s visions:

  •  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)
  • “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. (22:10)
  • Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” (22:11)
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (22:12)
  • I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
  • “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (22:16)
  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (22:17)
  • He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (22:20)

Some of these messages seem confounding and confusing, for they seem to be saying that the Lord is coming soon and Christ’s coming is near, in spite of the clear fact Jesus did not come soon.  Even the early apostles and the Apostle Paul implied that Christ’s coming was near.  

However, either His appearing has been delayed for two-thousand years or the Lord’s purposes have a deeper intent than we might suppose and understand.

Perhaps both interpretations may be correct, however, for the Apostle Peter addresses both possibilities about the delay in the Lord’s coming.  Considering that God is timeless, above the restrictions of the linear nature of time’s progress, only two days have passed!

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (II Peter 3:8)

In addition, the Lord will delay His coming until every stone has been added to the Temple, every person has been added to the Body of Christ:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

And finally, Peter says, the Lord will appear suddenly, without warning, much the same way a thief might secretly break into a home when least expected.  

Christ is not a thief, of course, but Peter’s analogy is significant.  As in the parable of the Ten Virgins, we need to be ready, no matter how long it takes, for He could appear at any moment:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)

A Word of Warning

John  adds a final note of his own to his book, warning that some may try to add or take away from the words, and perhaps even the meanings, of the signs and symbols of these marvelously revealed visions.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Unfortunately, some of the most dedicated teachers of Revelation have made the errors John mentions, either by adding their own interpretations to the visions or taking away parts of the visions. 

I heard recently a description of these kinds of interpretations as follows:

It’s like looking into a well and seeing one’s own reflection.  

Thus, some well-meaning teachers only see from their own solipsistic perspectives, rather than finding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of Revelation.  This means, for example, that the locusts in the Book of Revelation are not helicopters with guided missiles, and the 144,000 saints are not members of a religious cult that only appeared in the twentieth century.

The Kingdom of God, Part VII

The Seventh Vision: Revelation 20

John’s Seventh Vision begins and ends in Chapter 20.  The previous six visions generally begin with an angelic messenger, but this messenger is different, for he holds a key. He is not given a key, for it is one He owns and has Himself obtained. He owns the key!

Jesus told Peter that “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).  And we have already seen in the first chapter of Revelation the following verses when John saw the glorified Jesus Christ:
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.  (Revelation 1:17-18)

Jesus Overcame Satan

Even before His victory on the cross, Jesus claimed to be the one who had come to bind the devil:  Luke 11:21

If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Luke 11:18-22)

Before His resurrection and not long before Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God, the truths of His impending victory were clearly stated to the disciples and future apostles, though they did not understand completely.  In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus prayed saying,

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)

Some in the crowd thought that an angel had spoken to Him, others that they had heard thunder, but Jesus makes clear what they had heard:

Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”(John 12:30-32)

And because the warfare in the spiritual realm is difficult to comprehend, Jesus promised the coming of the “Helper,” the Holy Spirit, who would not only enlighten the saints but also bring about the enforcement of the judgment of the prince of this world:

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11)

Later, the Apostle Paul wrote about Christ’s victory over Satan’s powers:

He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

In the Book of Hebrews, we find that even though we live in the physical world with bones, sinews, and blood, we no longer need to fear the devil, who once held the power of death over us, for Jesus became a man with the same kind of physical body as ours to liberate us from him who once held us captive through the threats of death:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle John declared in his third letter that Jesus came to  “destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).  And this understanding is confirmed in the vision John sees in his revelations.

What John Saw

Much confusion has arisen over the Church’s understanding of John’s vision in these final chapters, but we must realize that the many mysteries in Revelation are given to the whole Church, and the interpretations of these signs and symbols must relate to the whole Body of Christ.  Therefore, the good news of this revelation is not just for those living in what we call the “End Times.”

The “angel” in the following passage is actually Christ Jesus, for the word angel means “messenger,” and unlike the other messengers who are given a key, this messenger has a key already.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  (Revelation 20:1-3)

During this period of one-thousand years the saints of God are given authority to go forth into all the nations to share the good news of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and overcoming resurrection, but as we have seen in the other six visions, persecution is always the result.

First, the saints are given authority, the same authority Jesus claimed and delegated in Matthew 28:18-19, when He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

This authority is represented in Revelation 20 verse 4 in the words “thrones” and “judgment”:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. (Revelation 20:4)

When the Gospel goes forth, however, persecution is always the result, revealed in the following verses:

And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

The vision continues with the description of the “first resurrection” from the dead, what happens when all who give their lives completely to the Lord Jesus are “reborn” of the spirit, as Jesus related to Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (Revelation 20:4-6)

This summation reveals that all who are in Christ Jesus shall not die but have eternal life with Him.  When does this life begin?  Not when our physical bodies die, for to be absent from the body, merely means to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, when we are reborn, we experience the “first resurrection.”

The Thousand Years Explained

Even when Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples continued looking into the sky to see when He was coming back, but the angel told them they had work to do first

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

The Apostle Peter, even in the first few years after Christ’s resurrection explained why the Lord’s second coming had not yet occurred:

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:7-9)

On the other hand, as we shall soon see in Revelation 22, the Lord Jesus said,

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:10-12)

I come quickly, Jesus said, and He compared His coming to a “thief in the night,” which means it will come suddenly when we don’t expect it.

The First Resurrection

This first resurrection is best understood by seeing what the rest of the Scriptures reveal.  The Apostle Paul, for example, writes that we have been raised together with Christ and seated with Him on His throne:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

And in his Letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that all the saints have not only died and been buried, but also raised up with Christ,

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-13

In a parallel passage in Romans, Paul describes how we have been baptized as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection so that we might reign with Him:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

Since we have died and been buried with Christ, as well as resurrected in the first resurrection, this is how we are to live our lives:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

We must set our minds where they exist in truth, seated with Christ in the Heavenlies.  Since Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world,”  we must not try to sit on our thrones in this earthly existence, only in the Heavenlies in the spirit.

The Final Judgment 

As in previous visions, specifically the one described in Revelation 16, the final judgment of Satan, his legions, and all on earth who continue in rebellion now occurs.

Just as the persecution of the saints begins when the Gospel goes forth, the time of judgment appears at the end of the visions John sees, this time a final judgment on those who continue to follow Satan, as well as Satan himself with his legions:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  (Revelation 20:7-10)

The Great White Throne

In the final verses in Revelation Chapter 20, we read about the Great White Throne on which the One sits who will judge all of the dead based on their works and deeds in their lives. Clearly there has been a resurrection, for the scene John sees includes those who have died:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)

The “lake of fire” is reserved for those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, and even death and Hades are thrown into the fire as well:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)

In the last article in this series, we will continue to examine the final two chapters of this marvelously mysterious book.  I pray that your understanding has been enlightened!  As John wrote, “Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”

 

 

 

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The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part VI

The Sixth Vision: Chapters 17-19

The Sixth Vision John describes in the Book of Revelation begins in Chapter 17 and continues through Chapter 19. This vision shows only the end of the cyclical tableau of seven visions John is shown. Rather than beginning with the first coming of Christ and revealing the warnings and judgments of the Gospel’s being sent to the world, however, this vision focuses on the end result of the judgments of God against Babylon.

Please understand that our purpose is not to dissect the text and try to understand every symbolic meaning and metaphoric element. Instead, it is more productive to get a comprehensive overview of the entire book to see how it relates not only to the Church today, but also to the Church of the whole Body of Christ that has come before us.

Two overriding metaphors are used in this vision to reveal the ultimate purposes of God.  Two women and two cities appear: first, the Bride of Christ, the Church, and the Harlot, Mystery Babylon; second, two cities also are in evidence, the New Jerusalem and Babylon. Just as the figure of the harlot and the virgin are seen as contrasting opposites, the Book of Revelation also speaks of two contrasting cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem.

The Harlot in Proverbs

John first compares Babylon to a “harlot,” and typical of a woman who sleeps with many men in exchange for money, this “woman” personifies spiritual corruption and contrasts with the purity of the other woman in the Book of Revelation, the Bride of Christ, or the Church.

The book of Proverbs portrays a harlot as a seductress to the vulnerable young man, seeking to lead him astray from wisdom and understanding. She uses the cover of darkness and the temptations of love and sexual pleasure to lead a young person to depart from wise behaviors.

Above all, the harlot in Proverbs is an advocate for false wisdom, a wisdom that leads to destruction rather than blessing. Spiritually, the harlot offers false wisdom as a means of obtaining wealth and power.

Lucifer’s deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve  would not die as a result of disobedience, but they would become “like God,” knowing good and evil, and hence become the masters of their own destiny.

This deception has become the basis for all false religions, including atheism and agnosticism, as well as the false religions of both the past and the present, particularly occultism and sorcery.

Harlots in Isaiah and Jeremiah

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both referred to Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem as a harlot or an unfaithful woman who commits adultery, for she was judged faithless and filled with selfish unrighteousness and even murder.

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21)

Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:6-10)

Babylon, the Harlot

Since the Bride in Revelation is a clear portrayal of the Church of Christ Jesus, numerous attempts have been made to identify the harlot in Revelation as representing some religions such as Catholicism or Islam, for example.

Unfortunately, many expositors of John’s Book of Revelation typically interpret the mysteries too narrowly, according to their own perspectives, rather than understanding that Revelation was written for the whole Church of all ages.

In this case, therefore, the vision is interpreted by the angel speaking to John himself. Although the angel declares that the  harlot is  a mystery, the angel provides the meaning of the mystery:

And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)

The angel further explains the mystery of the woman, saying,

The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.  (Revelation 17:18)

This interpretive key, along with the name of the harlot, tells us that Babylon is related not only to the stories of ancient Babylon in the Book of Daniel, but also to the story of Babel’s tower in Genesis 11:1-9:

 Mystery Babylon

In the original Hebrew texts, the names for “Babel” and “Babylon” were the same, essentially “Bbl,” since no vowels were used.  We can conclude, therefore, that the two cities were the same.  Thus, the Hebrew word translated “Babylon” is bâbel, which is the same word used in the book of Genesis that refers to the tower of Babel.

Using this story as a backdrop, therefore, we see that Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents the great city of historical Babylon, a city that symbolically depicts the attempts of humans to be equal with God and to elevate themselves to the sphere of divine beings.  They had swallowed the lie that they would be like gods, and their hope was manifested by building a tower they believed would reach into heaven.

Thus, Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents both a city and a harlot of false religion, one that supposedly helps humans find the divine from within themselves, rather than finding justification and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

The Tower of Babel

After the flood of Noah, the city of Babel was ruled by Nimrod, under whose leadership the tower was built.  Despite God’s desire that the people separate and inhabit the whole earth, Nimrod collected the people to himself, even building a ziggurat, or tower, to negate the possibility of a future flood in defiance of any future judgment of a flood from God.

Nimrod was the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah.  Genesis describes him  as “a mighty one in the earth” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:8-9).

Here is the story of the Tower of Babel as it is found in Genesis:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

An interesting article by biblical archaeologist Dr. David P. Livingston attempts to show that Nimrod was a fierce opponent of Yahweh.  Livingston proposes that Nimrod is not the man’s true name, which was a derogatory pseudonym, but that he was the one named Gilgamesh in the ancient epic.

First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b, also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is “The Rebel.” Thus “Nimrod” may not be the character’s name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. (See http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/nimrod.html)

Another legend concrning Nimrod is detailed by Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, who claimed that Nimrod’s city of Babel was constructed in defiance of Yahweh:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. . . . He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimrod)

Thus, the stories of Nimrod and Babel lead us to the image of “Mystery Babylon” in Revelation, particularly the associations with autocratic governments, rebellion against God, blasphemy, and religious occultism. Consequently, we are able to understand more fully the symbolic images of Babylon, as the great city and the harlot, in the vision that John sees in Revelation.

The Harlot Rides on a Beast

The angel in John’s vision relates that the citizens of this Mystery Babylon will wage war against the Lamb and those who are with Him, those called “chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8)

This description is uniquely mysterious.  I suggest that it relates to a parallel story about Lucifer.

We understand that Satan became the prince of this Earth after Adam’s sin, for Adam gave him his authority over the earth.  The three temptations of Christ confirm this assumed authority, for Satan the tempter declares that he will give Jesus the kingdoms of this world in exchange for His worship (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Of course, Jesus does not succumb to the lies of the devil, choosing instead to use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God in opposition.

Satan was then ultimately defeated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the kingdoms of this world were indeed given over to the Messiah, who declared that “all power is given to me in Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18-20).  Though Satan fell “like lightning” from Heaven, he will arise from perdition for just a little while, only to be defeated again and finally imprisoned in Hell.  (We will study this in a future chapter of Revelation, specifically Chapter 20.)

Victory for the Lamb

Again in John’s vision, the sixth we have studied, there is a call for repentance and for all who are redeemed to come away from the spiritual domains of the Harlot:  

I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:4-5)

The kings and merchants of the earth will mourn over Babylon, the Harlot, for they will no longer be able to access her luxuries or sell their goods to her.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. (18:20-21)

The destruction of Mystery Babylon, the Harlot, is decreed not only because of her corruption and rebellion, but also because of her persecution of the saints of the true Church of Christ:

And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24)

The Bride of Christ

I’m constantly amazed at how perfectly God’s plans merge together into an astounding harmony throughout the Scriptures.  For example, just as Eve was formed out of the side of the first Adam in Genesis 2, the Bride of Christ, the Church, was formed out of the side of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

The Body of Christ, or the Church, was formed, therefore, as a result of Christ’s willingness to give His life through crucifixion and even to take the penalty in Hell for our sin.  At the time of His death, out of His side flowed water and blood to give us life in Him.

In Chapter 19 of Revelation, therefore, we see the Bride of Christ, the Church, ready to be married to the Lamb, or Christ Jesus.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)  

Our union with Christ as a marriage is a great mystery, wrote the Apostle Paul, for we are members of His body, having been formed from His resurrection. (Eph. 5:32).  We next see in Revelation, therefore, the second coming of Christ, not only to receive His Bride, but also to defeat finally the forces of Satan.

 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, brightand clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)

Christ appears with His saints, also riding white horses, and the name written on His robe and on His thigh was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Forces of Satan Defeated

We then see the forces and powers of darkness defeated, represented by the beast and the false prophet, the symbols of religious and secular opposition to the Kingdom of God.

And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:20-21)

Thus, the sixth vision ends with the destruction of the forces of Satan and the blessed union of Christ with His Bride.

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part V

The Fifth Vision: 14-16

All In Seven Years?

One of the most persistent ideas about the End Times in the Church today is that many Revelation Bible teachers believe that the different outpourings of God’s wrath are successive, rather than describing the same events in different ways or from various perspectives.

I trust that you have seen in these articles so far that this is not the case.  Each cycle covers portions of the period between Christ’s birth and resurrection, followed by periods of tribulation as a result of persecution, culminating in the return of Christ to bring His Church/Bride home to heaven, along with the end of the world.

Although we are currently looking at John’s Fifth Vision, one other problem needs to be addressed.  

Many End-Time Bible teachers believe that a seven-year period of time, usually labeled the “Great Tribulation,” is predicted in Daniel Chapter 9.  And this period of seven years is the same amount of time all of the plagues, wars, beasts, judgments and horrible events in the Book of Revelation will supposedly appear and occur.

This teaching is based on a false interpretation of the prophecy found in Daniel, where the Angel Gabriel brings an answer to Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the people of Israel.  Here is Gabriel’s message:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. (Daniel 9:24)

What follows, then, is a description of how and when these events will take place:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. (Daniel 9:25)

These two verses show that from the issuing of the decree by Cyrus, the Prince of Persia (the successor to Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon) to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem there would be 69 weeks of years, “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,”or 483 years (69 x 7 = 483).

Thus, 483 years after the decree is issued, the Messiah will appear and then be “cut off”:

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:26)

This means that after the 483 years, the Messiah will begin His ministry on earth.  The Messiah will then be “cut off and have nothing,” sometime during the final seven-year period, or the 70th week.  This happened when Jesus was crucified after about three and a half years.

Then, the “prince who is to come” will bring about the destruction of Jerusalem once again, along with the Temple.

Not only Daniel, but also Jesus predicted during His earthly ministry that the Temple would again be destroyed.   

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

Consequently, Jesus implied also that all sacrifices and grain offerings in the Temple would cease, for the Temple would be destroyed, for He was the Messiah who would cause sacrifices to cease.

This is how Gabriel’s message to Daniel is stated: 

And he [i.e. Jesus] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week [i.e. 3 1/2 years]  he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:27)

Therefore, Jesus the Messiah was indeed “cut off” in the middle of the final “week,” or seven years, for He was crucified after three and a half years.  Then after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus the sinless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sin, caused all sacrifices to cease.

The common understanding is that there needs to be a new temple built and sacrifices resumed in order for the “prince who is to come” can cut off sacrifices and grain offerings, a condition that denigrates Christ’s ultimate sacrifice as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  

The Apostle Paul raged against this kind of teaching, opposing those who wanted Christians to continue to follow the laws of Moses, which would include sacrifices.  

In the sixth century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, the sacrifices ceased until the Temple was rebuilt about seventy years later. The sacrifices continued until AD 70 when Titus and the Roman army sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Since then, the sacrifices have not been offered because the temple has not been rebuilt.

This means that there is no 2,000-year gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Gabriel’s message to Daniel, and no other prophecy predicts a mere seven-week tribulation period.  Instead, Jesus told His disciples that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  

This is how the Apostle Paul describes the tribulation to the Church in Rome:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:5-11)

I have written two articles on this problem, posted September 1, 2014, but if you would like to see them again, click here and copy/paste to your web browser: 

  • http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/09/01/grammatical-misreadings/
  • http://biblicalmysteriescom.ipage.com/2014/09/01/imposed-meanings/

 

The Bowls of Wrath

The Fifth Vision John sees focuses directly on the judgments of God against those on Earth who have refused to turn to the Lord of Mercy in repentance.

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. (15:1)

John then sees a picture in Heaven of those who have been victorious on Earth as they have taken their stand against the temptations of sin:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. (Revelation 15:2)

John then sees this gathering of victorious people with harps in their hands, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. John sees seven angels carrying golden bowls filled with the wrath of God:

After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Revelation 15:5-8)

The Bowls of Wrath

Chapter 16 begins, therefore, with the seven angels holding Bowls of Wrath. They are told by a loud voice from Heaven this message:

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God. (Revelation 16:1)

The rest of this chapter continues with the descriptions of the bowls of wrath being poured out upon the Earth.  The first six bowls are poured, including the following plagues:

  • The first angel pours his bowl and it brings a loathsome and malignant sore upon the people who worship the beast and carry his image on their foreheads.
  • The next angel pours the second bowl, and the sea becomes blood.
  • Then the third angel pours out blood into the rivers and springs of water and cries out that God is righteous, “for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (16:6).
  • The fourth angel pours his bowl onto the sun, and it began to scorch the sons of men until they cried out blasphemies, yet still would not repent.
  • The fifth angel pours his bowl of wrath on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom becomes darkened. They cried out in pain because of their sores, and though they blasphemed God, they would not repent.
  • The sixth angel pours out his bowl on the River Euphrates, yet it became dry, leaving a clear path for the armies of the kings of the east.

Now there is a brief pause between the sixth and the seventh bowls to reveal the gathering of the nations in a place called Armageddon, or Har-Magedon in Hebrew.

Armageddon

John sees three unclean spirits coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet that are like frogs.  These spirits go out to the kings of the earth to gather them together for “the Great Day of God,” the final judgement of God against those who refuse to repent:

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. (Revelation 16:17-20)

Thus, the question is not, “What is Babylon?” or “Who is the Beast?” Instead, what should concern us and the Church of all ages is what these terms represent.  

So many have labeled them in twenty-first-century people or places, but they have been represented throughout history in countless different ways.  

 

How Do We Interpret Such Mysteries?

Imagine living in the time of the Apostle John in the first century after the Book of Revelation was written. Whom do you believe is the “Beast: or the “Harlot”?  What does “Babylon” represent?  

Or perhaps you are living during the reign of Nero in Rome, or even Hitler in Germany in the 1940s.  

Is Barrack Obama the Antichrist? Some have declared him to be the one John wrote about in Revelation. Should we try to fit these historical figures into John’s apocalyptic visions, only to be wrong when years pass?  

Today, one site (http://www.christconnection.net/id7.html) declares that Alexander the Great is the Antichrist who will supposedly rise from the dead. Other sites say the Pope is the Antichrist. Wait, I thought Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist!  Oh, no!  

Today, we are told that the “Mystery  of Babylon” (which we will study next in Revelation 17) is Rome, or Jerusalem, or even America, depending on the interpretations of the various Bible teachers. And these places are interpreted literally, not as representations of spiritual significance applicable to all Christians.

Shouldn’t these teachings be modified in case the link doesn’t work out in the light of history, as has happened so often in the past?  

Again, this is the danger of trying to be too specific in terms of identifying the actual persons or places in Revelation and linking them with present-day people or cities.  

On the other hand, if I were alive in the first or second centuries hearing that the Beast arising out of the sea is an evil person living in the 21st century, I’m not sure I would take the warnings of repentance and the consequences of not doing so too seriously.  

Thus, we need to focus our spiritual attention on the meanings of these visions, not trying to take them literally or applying them to specific contemporary people or places. If we are wrong, we will only bring reproach on the Church and Christ Jesus.

Nor should we be focusing on the “signs of the times” to declare that the European Common Market is the Beast with seven heads and ten horns found in Revelation 13 and 17.  It’s been years since I have even heard that term “Common Market” used, but when I was a teenager that was what we were told was the prime indicator of the Antichrist’s coming kingdom.

In the next article, we will consider John’s Sixth Vision beginning in Revelation Chapter 17.

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part IV

jesus-with-a-sharp-sickle-in-his-hand

The Fourth Vision (Chapters 12-14)

Rightly Dividing the Book of Revelation

First a few suggestions for reading and studying the Book of Revelation.  I’ve already written that John’s Apocalypse is a book of signs and symbols. Consequently, it should not be read literally.  

When we see a beast arising out of the sea in Revelation, it does not refer to the  creature living in Loch Ness or to the whale in Moby Dick.  And we know that the creatures in Jurassic Park and other films are not real, even though they look realistic.

In addition, however, realizing that there are many mysteries and secret meanings in the Revelation, persecution from world governments and false religions is a primary theme John is asked to write down.  Therefore, the book is written in a kind of code that may only be broken by using the whole Word of God as a key.  

Those not familiar with the Scriptures will be totally confused by the strange beasts and descriptions of the plagues, for example, but we who have read about the story of the Exodus of Moses or the visions of Daniel have access to the secrets God wants to reveal to His people.

Finally, one more suggestion: We should not become focused on every detail in John’s vision, trying to find direct links comparing what is written with current events or people in history.

Instead, finding meaning is much like seeing a painting by Picasso, trying to understand all of the colors, lines, and distorted features of the portraits.  Picasso needs to be understood wholistically, not focusing on any particular unusual feature in a painting.  Clearly, Picasso was not trying to be realistic in his paintings, but instead only suggesting his ideas through images that convey his ideas.

The following painting, for example, makes more sense when we know it is of a weeping woman. 

However, we do not need to understand Picasso’s every intention to see what the artist is doing overall.  We either like the painting or we don’t, and I have to say that I prefer the works of other artists much more than those of Picasso!  

Thus, we need to see the Book of Revelation as a whole, in context with the rest of the Scriptures, relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.  

For example, we will see the sickles in Chapter 14 in context with Christ’s Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, a good example of determining meanings in the whole body of God’s Word, for in many ways, the Book of Revelation is equally disturbing in terms of the images and symbols John writes about.  

 

Another Vision

Beginning in Chapter 12, therefore, we again see one more perspective of God’s plan to redeem the world and set free all who will call upon His name in faith. This Fourth Vision begins the cycle of the whole plan of redemption, although some of the seven visions do not contain the entire tableau, as we will see in future articles.  

This Fourth Vision begins with the story of Christ’s first coming:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.  (Revelation 12:1-2)

Most teachers and scholars in the Church believe that this woman represents the true Israel, the crown of twelve stars standing for the twelve tribes.  John’s vision relates to Joseph’s dream in Genesis:

Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:9-10)

Clearly, Jacob (whose name is later changed to Israel) interprets Joseph’s dream in the following way: The “sun” represents Israel, the “moon” represents Rachel, and the “eleven stars” represent Jacob’s eleven sons (besides Joseph). (See also Genesis 35:9-10.)

Some Bible bloggers believe this number cannot represent the Church, for it only consists of Jews.  However, the New Testament clearly declares that the Jews and the Gentiles both make up the True Church in Heaven.  See my articles on “The New Covenant with Israel” concerning the joining together of Jews and Gentiles:

The Birth of the Savior

In John’s vision, therefore, the woman, who represents the faithful people of Israel, is pregnant, or “with child,” and she is ready to give birth to the One who will redeem the world out of the control of Satan.

Then John sees another sign in Heaven, a great dragon who waits for the child to be delivered so it may devour the child and destroy God’s plans:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. (Revelation 12:3-4)

In fact, Satan indeed conspired to kill Jesus, the promised Son of God and Messiah, by using King Herod, who ended up committing mass murder of children to rid his kingdom of a potential rival for his throne.

The dragon in Revelation, therefore, represents Lucifer, or Satan, who brought down many angels with him. (Revelation 12:4).

 

Lucifer’s Fall

Ezekiel’s prophecies of this event depict not just the King of Tyre, but also Lucifer, for the prophet relates that Lucifer was in Eden (Ezekiel 28:14); he was the “anointed cherub” God placed on the Holy Mountain (14); he was “blameless” in his ways until unrighteousness and sin were found in him (15); and he was cast as profane from the mountain of God (16).  And according to many Bible teachers, when Lucifer fell, he took one-third of the angels with him.

What follows next in Revelation depicts in just one verse the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven of Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah:

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. (Revelation 12:5)

 

Michael Again Wages War

Once again, however, we find that when the Gospel goes forth into the world, persecution follows, and this is what happens to the woman, or the true Israel, who has become the True Church, the Bride of Christ: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God (12:6).

Michael the Archangel also appears in John’s vision, along with Michael’s fellow angelic warriors,  waging war with the dragon.  This dragon is, a symbol of Satan and his demonic angels, for this symbolism is explicitly revealed by John in the following passage:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

John then hears the voice of victory in Heaven:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:10-11)
The battle that raged in the Heavens, however, is not finished, for it is then waged on earth.  The dragon, or Satan, attempts to persecute the woman who gave birth to the child, but she was protected, able to fly to the wilderness (12:13-15).  Therefore, the dragon turns his persecutions against the Church, or the “children” of the woman:
So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)

 

The First Beast

The story continues, showing how the dragon, or Satan, stood on the sand of the seashore awaiting a “beast” coming out of the sea. This beast is a representation of worldly powers, authorities, and rulers in the form of various beasts and animals:

Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.  (Revelation 13:1-2; see also Daniel 7)

These beasts symbolize the governments and rulers of the world, and they are much the same as those beasts arising out of the sea in the 7th Chapter of Daniel.  These governments also seek to persecute the Church:

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:7-8)

 

Another Beast

Then in John’s vision another beast arises out of the sea, one that represents the false religions of the world, yet a beast that still supports and functions under the authority of the first beast:

Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. (Revelation 13:11-14)

This beast is like a lamb, but it speaks with the voice of a dragon. Thus, this beast speaks the words of the dragon, but it is deceptive, operating like a benign religion while exercising the authority of the first beast.  Thus, this second beast is a picture of the counterfeit church, an alternative to the True Church of Jesus Christ.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Revelation 13:18)

The number 666 represented here in Revelation is a bit difficult for modern readers to understand, but it was common to use letters of the alphabet not just to form written words but also to represent numbers, hence the numeric system we had to learn in elementary school:  Roman Numerals. 

This conversion of letters to numbers system is called a “gematria,” and was commonly used in the Early Church as a code to identify various people who were persecuting the Church without naming them directly and, thus, inviting increased persecution.

John says, however, that the one “who has understanding” can calculate the “number of the beast,” so applying this name to someone two thousand years later seems unwise.  The Emperor Nero, however, seems to be a likely candidate, not only because of the “gematria,” the numbers in his name adding up to 666, but also his extreme persecution of Christians, an important theme in John’s book. Thus, Nero is a symbol for future world leaders used by Satan to persecute the Church.

 

The 144,000 on Mount Zion

Finally, nearing the end of this Fourth Vision, we see a picture of the resurrected Church:

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)

The Mount Zion John sees in Heaven is not the same Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem, nor will it be in future visions in Revelation.  Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem is where King David claimed the fortress from the Jebusites, making it his palace and the site of the future Temple.

In the New Testament, however, Zion takes on additional symbolic and spiritual significance as the name of the city of the Living God.  First of all, Peter says that Jesus Christ is the “Cornerstone for the foundation,” described in Isaiah’s prophecy.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,”  (I Peter 2:4-7)

As Peter describes it, Christian believers are part of the Temple, as living stones built upon the foundation of Christ the Cornerstone.

And as the writer to the Hebrews describes it, Christians “have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” (Hebrews 12:18).  Instead, he writes, you have come to the true Mount Zion in Heaven:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Although, much has been proposed about who the 144,000 are, therefore, it is clear that they are those who have been sanctified and set apart unto God through Jesus Christ, and are a part of the Mount Zion in Heaven, the New Jerusalem.  These Christians are able to sing a “new song” and have the name of Jesus and His Father God on their foreheads. They also have been purified and have lived chaste lives:

These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:3-5)

Their number, 144,000, is a combination of several significant symbolic numbers:  3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10.  Thus, the total number of 144,000 is made up of combinations and multiples of the prominent symbolic numbers in the Scriptures and represent the True Church in Heaven.

 

Final Judgment

In the final part of the Fourth Vision, we see three angels proclaiming the final judgment on the followers and worshipers of the Beast, those who have a mark on their hand or their forehead. Here are the words of the three angels:

  • Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. (v. 7)
  • And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” (v. 8)
  • “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  (v. 9-10)
We find two bodies of people in the final part of John’s Fourth Vision, therefore: First, the True Church, or the 144,000, those with a mark on their forehead with the names of Jesus and His Father;  and second, those who worship the beast and hold to the false religion of spiritual Babylon.  
Finally, the vision ends with two angels carrying sickles, reaping the “harvest of the earth” in judgment.  The people of God are reaped to enter their final place in Heaven, while those who have worshiped the beast are reaped and, like the “tares” in Christ’s teaching, are doomed to fire and brimstone.

Tares Among Wheat

This part of  John’s vision in Revelation is a reflection of Christ’s “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.”  

Tares are very similar in appearance to wheat, but they appear first in the ground and steal nutrients from the soil.  They entwine themselves around the wheat so they cannot be removed without destroying the wheat crop as well.  

The tares mature faster than wheat, however, so they may be cut first and destroyed, allowing the wheat to grow to maturity.  

Here is Christ’s parable, along with the interpretation He gives the disciples.  Notice the parallels with the vision John sees in Revelation 14:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then Jesus is asked to explain the parable:

Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Thus, the Fourth Vision repeats the cycle, beginning with the coming of Jesus, continuing with the spread of the Gospel and the subsequent persecutions by the two beasts, and concluding with the final judgment.
 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part III

 
 

The Third Vision (Chapters 8-11)

How A Scroll Is Read

The Apostle John now begins the next vision he saw, the third.
First of all, this is a good time, perhaps, to realize that the chapter and verse designations that appear in modern translations of the Scriptures are not a part of the original documents.  Modern editors have placed these in the text to assist us in finding our places.
 
Nor are the headings that are used to separate the portions part of the original texts.  This means that we readers must be careful not to be influenced by these demarcations, for they are not always accurate, not just in Revelation but also in the entire Bible.
 
For example, the third seal in John’s second vision from Chapter 6 (verses 5-8) is described in the New American Standard Bible’s headings as “Famine,” yet in our analysis we saw that the wheat, oil, barley, and wine are present and available. However, they are only scarce to those who have no money to pay for them: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
 
     A denarius is roughly equivalent to only a day’s wages, and the money is scarce because of persecution, a persecution that arises for those who do not align with the principles and teachings of the ruling political and religious leaders.
     Second, from the context of the first two verses, we understand that there is a transition between them.  
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (8:1-2)
(Even the heavenly hosts need a half an hour break, it appears!)
     This “pause” may be demonstrating how the scroll with the seven seals opened by the Lamb in the Second Vision was made.  As the scroll is unrolled and read, and each vision is revealed, pages come to the next seal that needs to be broken, where the narrative pauses, also signifying the end of each vision John sees.
 

The Trumpets

At the beginning of John’s Third Vision, an angel appears with a golden censer and much incense.  This incense is added to the prayers of all the saints that have been collected and placed on the golden altar before the throne of God (Revelation 8:3). It’s clear what the incense symbolizes, therefore:  the prayers of the Saints.

This angel, who I believe is a type of Jesus our High Priest, is also a reflection of what the Jewish High Priest did every year on the Day of Atonement, as Moses instructed Aaron:

Then Aaron . . .  shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die. (Leviticus 16:11-13)

On the Day of Atonement, therefore, the high priest enacted in type a pattern of the ceremony the angel in John’s vision performs.

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:4-5)

This passage also makes clear the results of the incense that arises before the Throne of God. The thunder, lightning, and earthquakes that result are the responses of a Holy God to the intercessions and prayers of His people.

The Seven Angels

The seven angels in the vision then prepare to blow their horns. This ceremony has also been anticipated by the Jewish festivals, or feasts, celebrated every year.

The Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah, celebrates the Jewish New Year.  It begins with the blowing of rams’ horns, the “shofar,” calling God’s people together to confess their sins and repent. It is a solemn day of repentance and being reminded of God’s judgment against sin:

The Jewish Talmud states that three books have recorded the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life and they are sealed “to live.” The intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living forever.” (multiple online sources)

Ten days later on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur,  the shofars again sounded to declare a day of judgment. Some descriptions in the Jewish Midrash, or commentaries, even depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review.  All the people then pass in front of Him for judgment:

For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls. (Leviticus 16:30)

It was also a time of self-examination:

For nearly twenty-six hours—from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei to after nightfall on Tishrei—we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations. (Multiple sources)

Thus, these trumpets, or shofar, in Revelation had tremendous significance with these Jewish feasts 

 

The Shofar

The Trumpets blown by the angels in this part of Revelation are made of the horns of rams and called a shofar.  Unlike the musical sound of silver trumpets, these shofars produced loud blasts that sent out warnings or an alarm of impending attack or war. They represent in Revelation, therefore, the warnings of God’s judgments coming upon the earth:

And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. (Revelation 8:6)

These blasts from the shofars initiate the judgments of God over the physical universe, even including the sun, moon, and stars, described by the Apostle Paul as longing for the revealing of the sons of God and to be freed from the slavery of sin:

For  consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:18-22)

The first four shofars warn of judgments on the Earth that will lead to Christ’s coming, therefore, while the next three are called “woes” that signify the judgments brought upon those of the Earth who have rejected God. As Peter declares, the heavens will burn and the elements will all melt with heat. These warnings sound to declare the coming of Jesus Christ, bringing with Him the “new Heaven and new Earth”:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (II Peter 3:10-13)

The First Four Shofars Sound

The first shofar sounds, signaling the warnings that appear on the earth and in the heavens telling men to repent:

The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. (Revelation 8:7)

The second shofar refers to “a great mountain burning with fire” an allusion to Jeremiah’s prophecy that describes the destruction of Babylon.

The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed. (Revelation 8:8-9)

This “great mountain” alludes to the mountain Jeremiah prophesied about that refers to Babylon:

“But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
Who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord,
“And I will stretch out My hand against you,
And roll you down from the crags,
And I will make you a burnt out mountain.
“They will not take from you even a stone for a corner
Nor a stone for foundations,
But you will be desolate forever,” declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 51:24-26)

Many Bible teachers have speculated on what this Babylon represents, including the idea that it is the Roman Catholic Church, among religions, and the Unites States of America, among nation-states.  
     Again, I believe that this kind of speculation is unfruitful, for John’s visions are relevant to the Church of all ages, as it says in Chapter 22:7:  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”  And John is told not to seal up the book, for the “time is near” (22:10).
     We will see more about the destruction of Babylon in future chapters of Revelation, but for now, we must conclude that this Babylon is not a nation, but a symbol called “mystery Babylon,” described in Revelation 17.
 
The third angel sounds (verse 10), and the prophecy describes a star that falls from Heaven upon earth. The star’s name is “Wormwood,” which is a bitterness that permeates the waters on Earth:
The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. (Revelation 8:10)
The fourth angel sounds his shofar, which signifies how one-third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened:
The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way. (Revelation 8:12)
What follows are the soundings of the next three shofars, but first we see an eagle flying above sending a message to all the inhabitants of the Earth:
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
This eagle, perhaps, is a symbol of swift judgment descending suddenly from the heavens, the mighties of birds of prey executing judgment on the unwary.

The Three “Woes”

The Fifth through the Seventh trumpets are called “woes,” and they depict the judgments that fall upon those on Earth who do not repent or turn to God:
“Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (Revelation 8:13)
  

The Fifth Shofar

When the fifth Angel blows the shofar, locusts come upon the Earth.  These locusts mirror the locusts in the plagues of Egypt in the time of Moses.  They represent the consequences of  rebellion against God’s will and Word.  These locusts torment men who do not repent.
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:3-4)
 

The Sixth Shofar

The sixth angel sounds the shofar, warning of the “Army from the East,” depicted as the “great river Euphrates,” the dividing line between Israel and Babylon:    
Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  (Revelation 9:14-16)
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.  (9:20-21)
Clearly these warnings are insufficient to bring about repentance among humankind.
 
 

Another Interlude

Again, we have a pause (between the 6th and 7th trumpets) to reveal the condition of God’s people in the midst of persecution, as well as the impending appearance of Christ and the judgment of the rebellious.
 
First, in Chapter 10, we view the moment when John sees another angel who holds a “little book which was open” (Revelation 10:2) This encounter is  at least partially explained by Daniel’s encounter with Michael the Archangel, described as the “great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (Daniel 12:1).  
 
In Daniel’s prophecy, we read that when Michael arises at the end of time “there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Daniel 12:1).  
And at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)
Daniel is further told, however, to “seal up” the book “until the end of time” (Daniel 12:3)
But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”  (Daniel 12:4)

It seems, then, that the book in Daniel’s prophetic vision is the same book the angel holds in Revelation, and it is the same one that is given to John to eat.

Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard  again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”  (Revelation 10:8-9)

The story does not end here, however, for John is then told to prophesy again to “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Revelation 10:11).  The words John eats will be sweet at first, for the news of Christ’s coming is good, but the prophecy is bitter in the end, for the final judgment is severe and final.
 
This final judgment will be sweet for those who are on the way to salvation, but it will be bitter for those who have refused to repent and turn to the lordship of Jesus Christ, who will judge all upon His return.  This will be the final “woe.”
We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:17-18)

The Two Witnesses

The final part of this third vision describes what John sees concerning the two Witnesses, also called the “two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Revelation 11:4). Who are these two Witnesses and what do they represent?

The Apostle Paul uses the example of the olive tree to describe the True Church which consists of both Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 11), and as we have seen, the lamp stands represent the Churches in the first of John’s visions in Revelation (see Chapters 1- 3).

Concerning the Two Witnesses, In Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, Moses declared,

A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  (19:15)

These Two Witnesses in Revelation, therefore, symbolize the perfect and complete testimony of the truth of God’s Word. Thus, the prophetic Word of God revealed through these two symbolic witnesses irrefutably condemns those who continue in rebellion against God and His Christ:

And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. (Revelatin 11:5-6)

 

As powerful as they are, the prophecies of these two Witnesses are ultimately repudiated, however, by those in rebellion against God. As always happens, when the Word of God goes forth, persecution always follows:  

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:7-8)

The “beast” in this passage represents the persecution that arises whenever the Word of God goes forth, a persecution that arises from worldly powers and authorities.

Thus, those who have rejected the Word of God through His Witnesses rejoice, for no longer do they have to hear the message of repentance.  But even though they lie dead in the street, the two Witnesses are soon raised again:

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. (Revelation 11:11)

After the two Witnesses ascend to Heaven, judgment appears on earth, followed by repentance:

And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Revelation 11:13)

 

Seventh Shofar

When the Seventh Angel sounds the shofar, there is praise and worship in Heaven:  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
     Thus, the Third Vision John saw in his visions begins with a unique perspective on God’s plan, the “Mystery of God’s Will,” for the people of God. It begins with the going forth of the Gospel, or Good News, but focuses on the persecution and judgment that arises when the powers of the enemy, the world powers, come against the True Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have been sealed on their foreheads.

Conclusion

     Please remember that this third vision in Revelation is a message that like a dream is sent in the language of signs and symbols. Thus, it must not be interpreted literally or understood necessarily in terms of current events.
     These visions were given by God through John to the Church of all ages, and it brings both the sweet taste of love and gratitude for God’s love and acceptance, as well as the bitterness of regret for those who ultimately reject this grace of God.
     Next we will study in Revelation the Fourth Vision John saw on the Island of Patmos, Chapters 12-14. 
 
 
 
 

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part II

The Second Vision: Chapters 4-7

 The beginning of John’s Second Vision in Revelation is indicated by the following statement:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     In his vision John sees Heaven.  The pattern for Heaven was seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, when he was told to follow the pattern when building the Tabernacle the Jews used in the wilderness.

     This is a part of what John saw:

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Revelation 4:5-6)

     The following scenes depict all that has unfolded since Christ’s first appearance on Earth as the human Son of God, His birth, resurrection, and ascension.  John sees a re-enactment of the scene when Christ appeared before God’s Throne in Heaven after His resurrection:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)

     John looks and sees a book with seven seals.  This book is not a prediction of the extreme tortures and judgments that will occur some day in the supposed seven-year tribulation period. Instead, John weeps greatly because no one is found who is worthy to open the book and break its seals (5:2), to bring to pass what God reveals as His solution to the problems of sinful captivity.  

     The book John sees, therefore, represents the unfolding of God’s will in redeeming humankind and the Earth from their bondage to Satan.  Only the perfectly sinless Son of God, a human without sin like a sacrificial lamb, could bring about this redemption.

     However, one of the elders around the throne of God tells John, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  

     This passage alludes to the Word of the Lord given through Nathan the prophet in the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the King from the line of David, whose kingdom will have no end.  Speaking to King David, Nathan says,

When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  (II Samuel 7:12)

This descendant was Jesus.  Instead of a lion, therefore, John sees a Lamb “as if slain”:

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

     Thus, the figure of the Lamb is clearly a depiction of the risen Jesus Christ, revealed as the antitype of the lamb of sacrifice in the Old Covenant.  

     The rest of the Second Vision concerns the breaking of the seals, for Jesus Christ is celebrated as the One who is found to be worthy.

     Unlike the picture posted at the beginning of this article, the book John saw was the kind of scroll that could only be read as it was unwound:

Unwinding was impossible, however, until each part of the scroll was loosed from the bondage of the previous seals in their order.  

     Also, to understand their significance, we must not look for future political events or historical figures, but patterns of what always happens when the Good News of the Kingdom goes forth into the world.

     Nor are the seals representative of future events necessarily, for they do not depict single events during the “Great Tribulation.” Instead, the Book of Revelation is meant to be a blessing to anyone who reads it, so the principles apply to the Church in every age, not just the Church of the End Times.  I doubt very much that those living in the Early Church period were overly concerned with what might happen in two thousand years, or might have been delighted to learn the name of the supposed Antichrist.

     What follows, then, are descriptions of what happens when Jesus Christ opens the seals, not just once for a specific time at the end of the age, but for all times during the Church Age until His second coming.

The First Seal:  

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.  (Revelation 6:1-2)

The rider on a white horse is not a false messiah, or the Antichrist, as some have suggested.  Instead, the rider has a crown who goes forth to conquer.  This is a picture of Jesus the King who, with His Church, goes forth into the world to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

     To understand this image, we need to see that the white horse should be consistent with the white horse in the 19th Chapter:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. (6:1-2)

Thus, the white horse represents the proclamation of the Gospel, the going forth of the message Jesus has commanded.  The Lamb, Jesus Christ, has been crowned, and He is going forth to conquer and make manifest the fact that all power is given to Him in Heaven and on Earth.  And we in the Church are part of His campaign, for He told us that since all power has been given to Him, we are to go forth into all the world in His name and spread the good news of His Kingdom (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We are not to conquer territory, for His Kingdom is not of this world.  

The Second Seal:

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (Revelation 6:3-4)

    This passage is reminiscent of the passage in the first chapter of Zechariah, another story of a rider on the red horse, written in a similar apocalyptic style:  

I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “I will show you what these are.” And the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet.”

Clearly, this passage is figurative, not literal, but its emphasis is slightly different from the red horse in Revelation, for in that passage power is given to the rider to take peace from the Earth, and men begin slaying one another. Instead, the passage in Revelation depicts what happens when the Gospel is preached.  Immediately, the enemy responds with persecution, depicted as the rider on the red horse just as Jesus declared that in the world we will have persecution.

The Third Seal:  

When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)

     This seal does not depict famine, necessarily, for there is plenty of food.  Only those who are able to purchase it may buy, however. This vision, therefore, depicts another form of persecution, for oil and wine are available if believers will only bow to the emperor or follow the dictates of the secular or state powers.  If not, they will lose their jobs or not be allowed to join the workers union. Thus, if they cannot work, they will have no money and no food.

The Fourth Seal:  

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8)

     Death and Hades are named in this passage, written on an ashen-colored horses.  These names describe the continued persecution against the Church through martyrdom, as well as natural disasters, leading to death, all of which Christians must endure. 

The Fifth Seal:  

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.  (Revelation 6:9-11)

     The opening of this seal depicts the martyrs of the saints seen under the altar.  They cry out saying, “How long, Oh Lord, will you refrain from judgment?” (6:10). The response to their cry is that they must wait until their number is complete.  Thus, God withholds judgment because of His mercy.  God is good if He punishes sin, but He is also longsuffering, withholding judgment until “whosoever will” may come.  

The Sixth Seal:

The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

     The opening of this seal reveals a terrible picture of rebellion against God and the punishments that fall upon the Earth as a result.  In the midst of the earthquakes and terror, men do not repent of their rebellion but only try to hide from God’s presence.  

 

A Pause

     What follows before the opening of the Sventh Seal is a pause, or interlude, that depicts the Church of Jesus Christ in glory, all of its members clothed in white robes and sealed as bondservants of the Lord. The Church is described using two pictures, or representations:

The 144,000

     Before the final judgment, four angels holding back the wrath say, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” (v. 3)

     Therefore, the first picture of the Church appears as those who have been “sealed,” the 144,000, a symbolic number made up of other symbolic numbers (3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10) and described in terms of the “tribes” of Israel.  

     These are not exactly the same tribes usually used to describe the Nation of Israel precisely, but instead the numbers come from, and represent, the True Israel made up of both Jews and Gentiles. See these past articles:

The New Covenant with Israel

The New Covenant with Israel

     To show that these are not simply the Tribes of Israel that are described under the Old Covenant, the tribes are mixed in order, and some are even deleted from the Old Testament record.  Thus, Reuben, Abraham’s firstborn, is not listed first, as was usual, but Judah is listed first instead, and Reuben is listed second.  Manasseh is listed, but his tribe does not appear in Genesis the 49th Chapter, where the other tribes are listed, while Ephraim was also a child of Joseph, but he is not listed. 

Therefore, this listing represents the True Israel (the perfect Church), consisting of those who have been sealed.

The Great Multitude:

     The next depiction of the True Church begins in Chapter 7, where John sees a “great multitude” that is uncountable, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues (v. 9).

     At this point, no better description of the True Church exists in Scripture, I believe, as long as the term “great tribulation” is not misinterpreted and described only in terms of seven years:

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:13-17)

     Jesus said before His death and resurrection, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

     The idea that the great tribulation only lasts seven years is based on a misreading of Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which I have discussed in a previous article which disproves this teaching. (Click here to read:  Imposed Meanings)

The Seventh Seal: 

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (Revelation 8:1-2)

     John’s Second Vision in Revelation ends, appropriately enough, with the statement that there was “silence in Heaven.” This pause of a half an hour signals the beginning of John’s Third Vision.

Next Time:  

In the next article, we will continue to see how the Kingdom of God and His Christ are revealed in the Apocalypse, or Revelation, of John. 

 

The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part I

 

The Book of Revelation, written down by the Apostle John, has much to say about the Kingdom of God, but it is primarily this book, unfortunately, that is the basis of the teaching that the reign of Christ will only begin after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This teaching says that Christ will be crowned to set up His throne in Jerusalem, where He will rule on Earth for one thousand years.

     The Book of Revelation was written to the whole Church, however, not just the Church that exists in what is termed “the later days.” What is written must make sense and pertain to the Church of all ages, for as John wrote,

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

The book belongs to all who read it, for the time is near to them also, as Jesus said in John’s vision, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book. . . .Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:7, 10).     

     In addition, Revelation belongs to a particular genre, or “kind” of writing called apocalyptic literature.  Thus, the book as a whole contains content much like parts of the books of Daniel and Ezekiel that include such strange images, as in the following passage:

Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. (Ezekiel 1:5-7)

Therefore, Revelation is a book that was not intended to be taken literally, for it was “signified” to John, as the word “communicated” is best translated in the Authorized Version, “He sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1 KJV).  Thus, the visions John saw on the Island called Patmos were revealed to him in the form of signs and symbols, a waking vision.  

     For example, in the first chapter, Jesus is depicted as having a sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 1:16).  We must not make the mistake of seeing this as a literal sword, however. Instead, it is a picture or representation of the “sword of the spirit,” the “Word of God” described by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:17) and by the writer of the Book of Hebrews (4:12) 

     This example of the sword reveals that the mysteries in Revelation, the many images and symbols in the Book of Revelation, may be discovered and understood in the context of other parts of the Scriptures.

     In addition, this book must not be read and understood chronologically or linearly.  It is not a “history” of the Church through two thousand years and beyond, but instead it portrays a series of visions that show patterns that are relevant to the Church of all ages.  

     Again, John shows this relevance to the whole Church clearly in the final chapter of the book, where he says of the angelic messenger:

And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:6-7)

     Therefore, John’s visions are comprehensible only to those believers who have been given the Keys to the Kingdom of God, not to those who are “outside” trying to see inside.  

     The message of Revelation was also important in the Early Church period, for example, so that early Christians did not invite more persecution by revealing what some of the meanings were in difficult times.  Can you imagine what the Emperor Diocletian might have thought of John’s book if he had known its true and unveiled content?  

     Therefore, it is clear that the Scriptures as a whole are the keys that unlock the mysteries of the visions John saw.  We have been given the Bible as a kind of code book which holds the keys to unlocking the enigmas and obscure meanings of the text. These are mysteries that God wants to reveal to His people.

     Finally, the book of Revelation focuses on a revelation, or a “revealing,” of Jesus Himself and His Body, the Church, not just the horrors of a supposed tribulation and His second coming. Based on what this book describes, Christ’s work has been finished, just as He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Thus, there is nothing more to do except to finish, or complete, what has already been decreed.

 

 

An Outline of Revelation

     The book consists generally of seven visions in which the overall plan of God is revealed from seven different perspectives.  In varying degrees of specificity, we see both the entire picture, as well as different details, not necessarily with the same degree of specificity or in the same language.

Also, John sees his visions “in the Spirit,” not with the eyes of the flesh. Even what we see with our own eyes may be difficult to recall and write, but John is charged with writing what he sees in a spiritual vision, no easy task:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     Each one of the seven visions portrays in different ways the story of the coming of Christ Jesus to redeem us from the Kingdom of Darkness, ruled over by Satan, followed by Christ’s victory over Satan, followed further by the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Christ’s reign on earth is then depicted and the final defeat of Satan is accomplished as the Gospel goes forth to the world and the Church is called to Heaven as the Bride of Christ.

     All of the visions John sees are also begun in different ways that show a transition to a new perspective.  Here are some examples:

  • First Vision (1-3): I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see. . .”
  • Second Vision (4-7): After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.
  • Third Vision (8-11):  When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
  • Fourth Vision (12-14): A great sign appeared in heaven. . .
  • Fifth Vision (15-16): Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues.
  • Sixth Vision (17-19):  Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot. . .” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness.
  • Seventh Vision (20-22): Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 

     Here, then, are descriptions of these seven visions with appropriate interpretations and explanations. These understandings are not my own entirely, but they are compilations of the teachings of many Bible scholars and teachers.  The teachings of Malcom Smith have been particularly enlightening and helpful.

 

First Vision: Chapters 1-3

     John’s first vision should not be read or understood literally, for it sets the parameters for the rest of the visions in the book.  First, the vision was communicated, or “signified,” through Christ’s messenger (1:1), and for our purposes in this study, John clearly states that we, the recipients, have been made to be a “Kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1:6)

     What are we looking for?  Significantly, when He appears, every eye will see Him, for He is not a thief, as some have portrayed Him, coming secretly to rescue His followers.  The word “thief” in Jesus’ teaching refers only to the suddenness of His coming, not to the idea that He will not be seen.

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.  (Revelation 1:7)

 

John’s Visions Should Not Be Interpreted Literally

     Two images immediately appear in the vision, the sharp sword out of Christ’s mouth (1:16) and the “Seven lampstands.”  These images are immediately interpreted by John for us as the seven churches addressed. Are these churches symbolic? 

     For example, do the seven churches represent the different “ages” of the church throughout history, as some have suggested?  Some have taught that the universal “Church” of today is represented by the final church addressed in Revelation, the church in Laodicea: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (3:16).

     I do not believe that this teaching is correct, for these churches represent the different kinds of churches that have existed at any time in the church age since the ascension of Christ.  John makes clear, however, that those people Christ has redeemed with His blood are all part of the Kingdom of God 

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  (Revelation 1:4-6)

And John’s vision also provides for us interpretations of what some of the symbols or images represent.  

He who overcomes, I will make him apillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  (Revelation 3:120

     We understand, therefore, that the true spiritual Church is portrayed in Revelation not only as parts of a building, the Temple of God, but also as citizens of a city, the “New Jerusalem.”  Thus, our destiny is not to live in geographical Palestine but in a Heavenly city, a spiritual city not made with hands.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

 

Next Time: The next article in this series will focus on John’s second vision and the breaking of the Seven Seals.

The Kingdom of God, Part III

Paul’s Kingdom Message to the Thessalonians

     Believing that they were defending Yahweh from heresies, many of the Jews in Thessalonica were incensed.  After hearing the preaching of Paul for three Sabbaths, many had believed the message and began following Paul’s message about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But the remaining Jews became extremely jealous and decided to attack Paul and his followers.  

     These Jews found some wicked men from the marketplace to help them implement their plans.  They engaged with these men and incited them to form a mob.  They surrounded the house of Jason, where Paul and his followers had been staying, seeking to bring them out to face the mob.

     When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of his friends before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

     Thus, they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.  As a result, the new believers gathered together and agreed that they needed to send Paul, Timothy, and Luke away for their safety.  However, everywhere Paul went he preached the Kingdom of God and declared that Jesus Christ is King of the Kingdom.

 

 

A Place Prepared for Us

     The Apostle Paul fully declared that the Kingdom of God arrived when Jesus fulfilled His mission on Earth and when He ascended to His throne at the right hand of God (Ephesians), not in Jerusalem. The moment came when Satan, the accuser of the brethren was “cast down” out of Heaven.
     Notice why Paul says the “eyes of the heart” may be enlightened: 
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
     These are all the result of Christ’s resurrection and coronation.  
These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every  name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)
     What are the ramifications of these facts about Christ’s coronation?  It means that we do not await a coming kingdom, one whose King still needs to defeat His enemies.  All things have been put under His feet, and since we are part of His body, we also reign over the forces of darkness, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
     This position of power does not exactly fit the scenarios portrayed by the many Bible teachers today who diminish the scope and power of God’s Kingdom reigned over by Christ Jesus.

Our Place in Heaven

     Where will we be when we enter our eternal destiny, therefore? Will it be on Earth for one thousand years, waiting for the final judgment?
     Jesus made clear that our place will be to be with Him in Heaven with God the Father.  In fact, Jesus claimed that He was going to prepare a place for us in Heaven to be with Him:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. (John 14:1-3)

     The Apostle John in this passage also answers the question we have asked.  The term “in my Father’s house” refers to God’s residence in Heaven.  Yes, God is omnipresent, and the Scriptures reveal this pervasive existence:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  (Psalms 139:7-8)

     However, John the Apostle writes in his Book of Revelation about the scene he saw in his vision, a vision of Heaven and Heaven’s throne:

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (Revelation 4:2-4)

     Jesus also prayed that all of His followers would be with Him in glory, including the Gentiles:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-24)

 

Paul’s Vision

     We know that after being caught up to the third Heaven to see inexplicable things, the Apostle Paul describes in his Letter to the Corinthians the place where we will be when we die:

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. (II Corinthians 5:1-3)
Paul continues to describe this place with Christ in the glory of Heaven, saying it will be our home as we await the final judgment day of the Lord:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Our Destiny as the Bride of Christ

     Our place in Heaven is also revealed in the analogy, or “mystery,” that connects believers with Christ, just as a bride is linked to her bridegroom.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
According to the Old Testament, a bride who was found not to be a virgin was stoned to death:
But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.  (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
     However, despite the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Christ the Bridegroom has assured that our purity, or “virginity,” has been restored as His bride:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:8-9)
     We as the Bride of Christ do not await the wrath of God.  Instead of being stoned, we await Christ’s coming again to receive us unto Himself, so we can partake of the Wedding supper and enjoy the consummation of our marriage with Christ. Like the ten virgins, or bridesmaids, who went out to meet the Bridegroom with their lamps of oil, we will rejoice at His coming.
     The final event begins when the Bridegroom goes to meet His bride and brings her back to the home he has prepared. The figure of the bride waiting with her companions to hear the voice of the groom when he arrives at her house to consummate the marriage is portrayed in Christ’s parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
     Thus, the consummation of the Age is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when we, the Bride of Christ, wait to hear the shout of Jesus and his companions when He arrives. At this time, the faithful still on Earth will be found to be “pure virgins.”  
     The Apostle Paul refers to this moment in the following passage:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (II Corinthians 11:2-3)
     The final stage in the Jewish weddings of Bible times was the wedding feast, and this celebration is depicted in the Book of Revelation:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God. (Revelation 19:7–9)
 Next Time:  The next and final article on this topic will examine the Book of Revelation’s teachings about the Second Coming, while discovering that this apocalyptic text was inspired and written for the Church of all ages, not just the End Times.
 
 

The Kingdom of God, Part II

The Apostle Paul’s Kingdom Ministry

The primary theme of  the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the spread of the Gospel to the world.  The history of the Church begins with the ministry of Phillip to the Samaritans, even to an Ethiopian man (Acts 8).  

The story in Acts continues with the ministry of Saul of Tarsus, later the Apostle Paul, who began with the Jews scattered across the Macedonian lands, but also specifically ministering to the Gentiles in those lands.   

Paul’s history continues through Acts until the final chapter, when he is arrested in Jerusalem. Paul then appeals to Caesar as a Roman citizen.  Therefore, his appeal takes him on a journey to Rome, where he teaches and preaches first to the Jews:

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. (Acts 28:23)

While in Rome, Paul also shared the Gospel with the Gentiles and “all who came to him” while he was held captive:
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.  (Acts 28:30-31)
Thus, the Great Commission was given by King Jesus to bring believers of all ages and peoples into His Kingdom, a kingdom that began at His first coming and will continue to grow until He comes again.  

Christ Jesus is King

Writing to the Gentiles in Ephesus, Paul prays for enlightenment so they will know the fullness of God’s plan:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
Paul then explains to the Ephesians the results of Christ’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension:
These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is Hisbody, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
Notice that Jesus is revealed as already seated at the right hand of God, above all authorities in both Heaven and Earth. It makes little sense, therefore, for Jesus to be crowned again in an earthly Jerusalem when He has already ascended the throne in the Heavenly Jerusalem, far above all powers in both Heaven and Earth.

Christ the Cornerstone

The Apostle Paul then shares with the Ephesians their place in God’s plan, a “mystery” that includes them with all the saints, both Jews and Gentiles, all as parts of the “holy temple,” another way the Kingdom of God is described in the Word of God:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Paul relates to the Ephesians the reasons why the mystery of the Kingdom of God was kept hidden:  It was to show how God’s wisdom has been revealed through the Church and has resulted in the complete reign of Christ as King:  
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
The mission of the Church continues, therefore, to demonstrate the wisdom of God’s plan even to these “rulers and authorities” in Heaven, and as believers we do it both from here and in the heavenly realms.  

The Riches of Christ

In the following chapter, Paul reiterates his previous points, again mentioning the “mystery” of God’s grace to the Gentiles:
By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;  (Ephesians 3:3-5)
Paul explains his meaning in the next few verses:
To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. (Ephesians 3:6-7)
Paul then explains his part in the revelation of this mystery:
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities inthe heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
Therefore, Jesus is the King who has already been crowned and is coming soon, not one who will be crowned when He appears in God’s time.

To Be Continued

We will examine this teaching about the Kingdom of God in Part III of this series, looking at two analogies, or metaphors, that describe the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God: Part I

Probably the most common belief about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is that He will come to set up His Kingdom on Earth and reign from Jerusalem on a physical throne.

For this doctrine to be true, the entirety of the Scriptures needs to point to this same conclusion, so let’s see what the Word of God says about the Kingdom of God and God’s plan for the final age to come.

The Mystery of  The Kingdom 

Jesus said that His followers must enter the Kingdom of God like a child: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).

Thus, a child’s simple faith and ability to enter into realms of wide imaginatione are parallel to the believer’s faith, the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), because the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.  It doesn’t come with “observation,” and flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, just as the Apostle Paul wrote:

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (I Corinthians 15:50)

Thus, the idea that the coming Kingdom is a physical one is illogical given the makeup of the Kingdom Jesus and the apostles proclaimed in the New Testament age.

 

The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You

A number of passages that describe Christ’s earthly ministry reveal that His purpose was to demonstrate and reveal the Kingdom in His person and through His mighty miracles.  For example, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus also said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28)

This Kingdom, Jesus implied, will not begin in another two thousand years, but it actually began in the lifetime of those who were gathered there with Him in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions.  After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

Such a statement must have raised great excitement among His followers, for they believed that the kingdom Jesus spoke about would be like the one King David ruled.  This is why, both before and after the Resurrection, they repeatedly asked Jesus,  “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:7). Even the Pharisees inquired of Jesus when He would restore the kingdom, although most likely they were trying to entrap Him (Luke 17:20).

After His resurrection, though, Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  (Acts 1:6-8) 

 

Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God

Jesus operated in His ministry as though the Kingdom of God was already present, showing through His works that the kingdom had arrived: 

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him.  (Luke 8:1)

And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. (Luke 9:2)  
But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11).
In fact, Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was not coming with signs to be seen, but that the Kingdom was right in their midst, or in their presence:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst”  (Luke 17:20-21).
Therefore, since the Kingdom “cometh not with observation” (KJV), the Church’s mandate was not to look for the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, but instead for the Kingdom to be populated, made up of people from every nation and language.
 

A Different Kingdom Than Was Expected

What the disciples of Jesus also did not realize was that the Kingdom would consist not only of the Jews, but also of gentile believers:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16).

Thus, after His resurrection and before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus gave His Great Commission, telling them to go into all the world and preach the good news:   
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 
We may now see clearly, therefore, what the disciples did not, at least at first:  The Kingdom of God would include people from every part of the world, from every nation and tribe, and would consist of believers and disciples from all times until the end of the age.  It has taken much time for this mandate to be fulfilled, and the time continues to this day.

Believers Are Also Told to Wait

On the other hand, the Scriptures seemed to signify that the Kingdom had not yet come, as in the following passage:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)
Thus, the disciples must have been confused; before the crucifixion, they were being led by their traditions and assumptions that because Jesus was travelling towards Jerusalem, He would soon assume the throne of an earthly kingdom, one they thought  would be similar to the Roman Empire and would take control over the Earth.  
Indeed, in the next few verses, Jesus even asked His disciples to appropriate a “colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat” (Luke 19:30) in order to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah, as prophesied in Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9) 
Thus, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13).
However, Jesus cleared up this confusion after His resurrection, when he continued to teach about the Kingdom of God: 
To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus then gave the disciples their commission to go into the whole world, sharing the Gospel and bringing with them all who would enter the Kingdom of God.
This same Great Commission continued with the Apostle Paul’s ministry, a mission which led him to preach the good news to both the Jews and the Gentiles.  We will analyze Paul’s mission as it relates to the Kingdom of God in Part II of this series.

All May Prophesy

In Luke’s Gospel we find the following message from a series of teachings that Jesus gives his disciples:

And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it  be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him. (Luke 12:8-10)  

We definitely do not want to deny our Lord.  We need to be prepared to “confess” Him before anyone who asks for our testimony, whether in private conversation or in courts of law.

Jesus continues His lesson to the disciples in the following two verses:

When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.  (Luke 12:11-12)

This promise, given to us by Jesus Himself, is powerful and very encouraging, but it may be difficult for some to believe that the Holy Spirit will speak to them in a time of crisis, especially an extemporaneous word that they haven’t prepared in advance.  

However, as we assemble together, the Lord provides many opportunities to learn how to receive His promise of inspiration in times of persecution as we exercise the gifts He has given us through His Holy Spirit.

 

My Own Experiences

Frankly, aside from being questioned by the school principal one or two times (and exonerated!), I have not been overly concerned about being brought before the “rulers and authorities.”  Recent changes in the world and the increasing numbers of Christians being persecuted for their faith have brought this possibility closer to our lives, however.

The promises Jesus gives in these verses from Luke are exceptionally comforting, particularly for those who may have a strong aversion to any kind of public speaking, which includes most of us.  Studies have even shown that Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is more feared than dying.

The Fear of Public Speaking

When I was a child, the times I had to deliver a book report or even participate in “Sharing Time,” were traumatic, and I rarely wanted to participate orally in classes, especially without writing down first what I would say.  Today, I no longer fear speaking in public, either in large or small groups, but I credit the power of the Holy Spirit in my life for giving me both the confidence and the words to say when I need them.

The Apostle Paul provides many insights into how the Holy Spirit moved in the Churches of his day.  Unfortunately, many Christians do not understand his many admonitions and guidelines, much, to our detriment, for we do not exercise the gifts of the Spirit, and if we do we have the same problems Paul warns about.  

This is what he writes about prophecy, for example, mainly to resolve some of the abuses of the gift in operation:  

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  (I Corinthians 14:29-33)

Paul lists this spiritual gift of prophecy among all twelve of the gifts in I Corinthians 12:7-11, but it is mentioned here in Chapter 14 in order to correct some of the abuses of these gifts, including selfishly seeking to be the focus of everyone’s attention, or not preferring one another and speaking out-of-turn.  

Above all, the gift of tongues was being exercised in Corinth without the gift of interpretation of tongues. A combination of both gifts was necessary for understanding what was being said. Thus, anyone new coming into the assembly was led to confusion, and disorder was the result:

So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.  (I Corinthians 14:9-11)

In addition, confusion existed in the Corinthian church, for people were interrupting one another or trying to speak all at the same time.  Somehow, they were misguided into thinking that if the message came from God, He had to be obeyed instantly when the inspiration was first received.  

However, Paul relates the following:

You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  (I Corinthians 14:31-33). 

This exhortation means that Paul’s desire is that everything may be done “properly and in an orderly manner” as the Church gathers together ( verse 40).  

 

Misconceptions About the Gifts

Some major misconceptions still exist about these gifts in the Church today, however, which have led either to their misuse or to the lack of their use altogether.  Many who use this gift have been deceived into thinking that the gift of tongues is used to deliver a message from God to the assembly, leading many Bible teachers today to teach that the gift of tongues is no longer valid or needed, when actually the opposite is true in these later days.  As much as I value the written Scriptures as the final authority on teaching and doctrine, I know personally how few people are able to read even the simplest texts with thorough understanding. This is why Paul says, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” (I Corinthians 14:31).  

Before His ascension, Jesus again promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5), and Jesus made clear that this promise is for the Church in every age and to the ends of the earth:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  

Later, Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost also clearly reveals that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was for the whole church in the “last days.”  Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel, and in doing so, he connects the gifts of tongues with the gift of prophecy, for particular use in the last days, even until now.   

Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost, however, clearly reveals that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was for the whole church in the “last days.”  Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel, and in doing so, he connects the gifts of tongues with the gift of prophecy for particular use in the last days, even until now.   

“And it shall be in the last days,” God says,
“That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.”  (Acts 2:17-18)

A careful examination of other relevant Scripture passages also reveals that all of the gifts were given to the Church for use in all ages for use in the uttermost parts of the world.  And the gift of tongues is not a message from God to the Church, but a message from the Church to God.  Paul makes clear that the gift of tongues is used for prayer, or to bless God in the Spirit:

Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. (I Corinthians 14:16-17)

If people do not know what is being said in a prayer of blessing, Paul asks, how will they say “Amen” to the prayer?  And Paul continues to place this gift’s operation in context:

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.  (I Corinthians 14:18-19)

However, not only does the Apostle Paul extol this gift’s use in his own life, but nowhere does he forbid the proper exercise of this gift: “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues” (I Corinthians 14:39). 

 

Prophecy Guidelines

Paul instead advises the use of the gift of prophecy in the church assemblies because its operation needed no interpreter, being delivered in a known language.  Plus, the most significant uses of this gift in the assembly are not to predict the future or warn of a coming Shemitah or Blood Moon. Instead, the word of prophecy’s purpose is to bring exhortation, edification, and comfort to the Church, for God speaks personally to us through this inspired gift. 

Both of these speaking gifts of the Holy Spirit are similar, therefore, because they are both inspirationally received and delivered. In addition, through these gifts God gives believers experience and practice in speaking as the Holy Spirit gives us utterances (Acts 2:4, I Thessalonians 5:20).  

The Apostle Peter reiterates this same point when he writes, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11).

 

Preparations For Use

It is this same exercise of faith and power through the Holy Spirit that will give us the inspiration we may need if we are called before the rulers and the authorities in days of persecution.  And it is the same giftedness that allows us to give an answer to those who seek to know about our faith in Christ:  

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (I Peter 3:14-15)

Thus, it behoves us to practice the use of these gifts so that we will be prepared to hear the Lord’s voice spontaneously and inspirationally when we are called upon to make a defense of the Gospel.  

 

Exercising the Speaking Gifts

To use these gifts takes faith and trust in the Holy Spirit’s ability to bypass our brains, yet use our speaking organs to speak discernible truths.  We must first be filled with the Holy Spirit and continue to walk in the Spirit, as the following verses reveal:    

  • And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.  (Acts 2:4)
  • And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
  • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. (Acts 5:18)
These verses demonstrate that God speaks to us through our spirits, not our souls.  In this carnal world we are accustomed to judging and evaluating everything we see and hear through our brains. However, the Word of God comes to us through our spirits which have been reborn.  Even God’s Word is useless to us if we receive it only through our minds, for it must be spiritually discerned, not mentally discerned.  
                 
Above all, we must strive to fill our hearts with the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures, for Jesus said, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
This is Paul’s meaning in the following passage, where he describes how his teaching comes from the words revealed by the Holy Spirit, not learned in a classroom.  He brings to the Corinthians words of life because they are Holy Spirit inspired:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. (I Corinthians 2:12-13)

In the following verses, Paul continues to make this application clear:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

The key to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through us, therefore, is to begin speaking, not necessarily knowing what we are going to say, but allowing the Spirit to give us the words as we speak, or  “as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:4).

This inspiration takes faith and confidence, of course, for we must overcome our fear of pubic speaking, as well as speaking without preparation in writing:

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has ateaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (I Corinthians 14:26)

This also means that we need to have faith and confidence in one another in order to avoid speaking or hearing false doctrines in the Lord’s name, for as Paul wrote, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (I Corinthians 14:29).  We must be willing to both correct and be corrected in order to ensure that it is indeed the Lord inspiring the utterance.

False Wisdom

 

 

In a passage we will examine more fully later in this article, Peter writes the following exhortation to the Saints:

Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.  (II Peter 3:17)

Along these lines I read the most astounding essay online recently in which the author tried exhaustively to defame and diminish the work of the Apostle Paul in the early Church.  Needless to say, I was not convinced.

The author’s accusations were lengthy.  However, even Paul’s detractors in the first century were unsuccessful, so only a slanderer or one deceived could think that such arguments might succeed.  I won’t mention the author’s name or the title of the article because it isn’t worth anyone’s time. I will briefly summarize the author’s points to offer my own rebuttals.

They included the arguments that 1.) Paul was not a real apostle because he wasn’t one of the original disciples; 2.) Paul never was taught directly by Jesus, only by “revelation”; and 3.) Paul was constantly at war with Peter and the other leaders in the Church over Gospel teachings. Most seriously, the author 4.) criticized Paul for appealing to Caesar and subsequently traveling to Rome for trial as a Roman citizen. His appeal set the Church on the road to being centered in Rome, resulting in Catholicism and the papacy. Finally, 5.) the author also lamented the fact that because so many of Paul’s writings appeared in the New Testament canon, other more important works were left out, including the Gospel of Enoch, a Gnostic text that they author evidently favors over the works of Paul.

 

Gnosticism

I won’t thoroughly analyze  in depth Gnosticism or the problems this heretical teaching brought to the early Church, but I will give a brief overview to serve as a framework for the truth.

The term gnosis essentially means “secret knowledge,” a knowledge that arises from within the self, a teaching that is similar to many religions still today.

Like Satan’s original temptation in the Garden of Eden, gnostic followers are told that they will be like gods, knowing good and evil.  In fact, the Gnostics believed that all matter is evil, so the idea that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully human and fully divine, is false in their view.  

The Church’s fundamental teachings are directly opposed to this idea, for Christ could only take our place as a loving substitute and receive the full judgment for the results of sin by fully taking on humanity in a sinless form.

Salvation, to the Gnostics, was only an escape from the material world back to the spiritual position from which humans had fallen; this salvation is obtained through hidden knowledge, as opposed to obedient faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, the problem of sin is not confronted in Gnosticism necessarily, for the works of the flesh are considered irrelevant in the mystical realms of knowledge.

 

Gnosticism Refuted

Gnosticism was soundly refuted and condemned by all of the Apostles, particularly John. In his letters John denounces the teachings of the Gnostics by demonstrating the truth of the Christian Gospel and by contrasting these truths with the antichrist heresies and teachings of his day, including the idea that Jesus did not actually come in the flesh:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (I John 4:1-3)

Peter and Paul both taught stringently against not only the errors of Gnosticism, but also the false teachings of all of the “Mystery Religions.”

From the earliest times in Christianity, these cults were problematic; they included strange and private initiation rituals, passing on secrets to the initiate about the life of the cult’s god or goddess, including how these initiates might achieve unity with that deity. This secret esoteric knowledge was unattainable by any person outside the circle of the cult, and even initiates had to progress in secret knowledge from stage to stage  to reach the heights of knowledge.

Paul specifically warns Timothy about these teachers in his letter:

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. (I Timothy 6:20-21)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

Paul was also directly concerned about the heresies of Gnosticism in his letter to the Colossians, not by directly confronting and refuting the Gnostic errors but by relating the truths of the Christian Gospel and the Mystery of Christ:

That is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)

Note the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plans for saving all who will call upon the name of Jesus Christ.  The idea that Christ can live in us and we can experience the Hope of glory is the genuine relationship with God, not the counterfeit.

 

The Apostle Paul’s Revelations

The Apostle Paul also received revelations in the spirit, therefore, even though he had once been an unbeliever and a persecutor of the Church.  Nevertheless, he received the grace of the Lord and became a prophet and a teacher in the Church at Antioch after he had been brought there by Barnabus (Acts 11:25-26).

It is possible that the “fourteen years” mentioned by Paul in II Corinthians 12:2 refers to this time he spent in Antioch.

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.

At any rate, Paul recalls that he received marvelous “visions and revelations” from the Lord:

And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.  (II Corinthians 12:3-4)

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarizes the mysteries he has received, specifically the “mystery of His will,” beginning in Chapter 1:

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:8-12)

Paul clearly writes to show that these revelations were not private for him alone, not secret knowledge, but were intended for all the saints in order to reveal the manifest wisdom of God, and in particular the Gentiles who had once been excluded from the Covenants of God.

Paul refers to this same summary later in Ephesians, or “As I wrote before in brief,” so that his readers might understand his insights into this mystery:

That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. the gospel. (Ephesians 3:3-6)

Here is a brief statement of Paul’s mystery:

That the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. (Ephesians 3:6-7) 

Then Paul clearly shows that he is not taking personal pride in this revelation’s being given to him, confessing his own weaknesses:

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly placesThis was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

What is the essence of this mystery?  It was that the Gentiles were to be fellow-partakers of the promises of salvation and redemption in Christ Jesus, working through faith in the sacrifice of Christ.

Thus, Paul did not hesitate to claim that the mysteries he had received were indeed given to him by revelation from God, but he did not do so in pride. And the difference between his claims and those of the gnostics is that these mysteries were never intended to be kept secret, but instead taught to all believers as the full truth of the Gospel.

Yes, the “Mystery of Christ” was indeed a secret, kept hidden from the foundation of the world.  However, the glory of the mystery is that the “manifold wisdom of God” has now been made manifest to the Church of which Paul had been made a minister.

The full gospel of Christianity was never intended to be a “mystery religion,” in which a few supposedly holy men keep secret their revelations in order to enforce authority and control over their followers, as did the leaders of the cults in the early centuries after Christ’s resurrection, and the cult leaders since that time have continued to do the same, even today.

 

Peter’s Revelations

Significantly, these truths were given by revelation not only to Paul, but also to Peter.  This is Peter’s story:

But he [Peter] became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means,Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. (Acts 10:10-16)

This vision and its fulfillment described in the next chapter in Acts, when Peter came to the house of Cornelius the Centurion, laid the foundation for the acceptance of the Gentiles into the Christian Church and affirmed the statements of Jesus when He declared that He had sheep from another flock that would be joined together into one:

I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the  Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:14-18)

Paul, however, was commissioned by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he took the largest responsibility for doing so, as he wrote in the passage cited above and also below:   

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

And the Book of Acts reveals how this commission was worked out in Paul’s life. However, rather than opposing Paul’s revelations and teachings, Peter emphatically defends them:

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (II Peter 3:14-18)

Don’t you just love Peter?  In this passage we see Peter the fisherman, not one to indulge in studious reading, not always able to completely follow what Paul is writing, declaring openly that Paul is sometimes hard to understand!

However, Peter knew the teachings and statements of Paul to be true, for they connected powerfully with the revelations Peter himself had on the rooftop concerning the salvation of the Gentiles if they would only believe in Christ’s salvation.

Looking to Things Unseen

New Criticism

When I began my studies in English Literature in the late 1960s, the favored method of textual interpretation was called “formalism,” or “New Criticism,” proposed by I.A. Richards in the 1920s.   Other approaches were not favored necessarily, particularly Freudian criticism, Marxist criticism, and philosophical criticism.

New Critical methods focused on discovering the author’s intentions through a “close reading,” while looking at the uses of figurative language or other expository techniques and asking what the author’s purpose was and what he or she wanted the reading audience to learn or discover.  This method involved analyzing a poem, novel, or short story based on the writer’s techniques, without bringing in a lot of background information about the author’s life, the history of the time, the beliefs or values of the culture at the time.

As students, our goal was to analyze each text based on the text alone as much as possible, discovering an ironic tone, for example, or the imagery patterns the author may have developed.  We also analyzed the work’s setting, characters, and the author’s overall point of view and try to discover what the author’s message was in the text.

When I entered my doctoral program of study over twenty years later, I learned that the world of literary criticism and study had changed drastically, for the work of Jacques Derrida, labeled “Deconstruction,” had overtaken the literary realm from New Criticism. This new method was nearly antithetical to New Criticism, for it essentially denied the possibility of any work’s having an inherent meaning, for such a meaning was considered impossible given the nature of human language and thought.

I’ll never forget one published article I read that essentially said, “The meaning of a text changes the moment it is written down, and it continues to change with every person’s reading of that text.”  This idea was stunning to me, for I asked myself, “Why read anything then?”

One of the first essays I wrote for my PhD classes concerned the imagery patterns in a particular novel we were analyzing.  I focused on similar passages in the novel that used the same types of images (similes, metaphors), so I quoted the texts at length, completing a thorough New Critical study of the novel.

I was stunned when I received my graded paper back.  My grade wasn’t the usual top of the ladder mark I was used to getting, and my professor simply wrote in explanation, “So what?”  In other words, he was saying, you have uncovered an imagery pattern, but in itself it means nothing.  What does the novel say as a result of these patterns?

In other words, he was saying, you have uncovered and analyzed the author’s imagery patterns, but in itself your analysis means nothing.  What does the novel say as a result of these patterns, if anything?

I wasn’t used to having to explain the interpretation of a text necessarily, so I definitely had to readjust my thinking when approaching a work of literature if I wanted to succeed in getting my PhD degree.

 

The Scriptures

In actuality, the New Critical approach I learned as an undergraduate was very appropriate for studying the Scriptures, however, for I had learned to recognize the truth resident in the words themselves, understanding that the truth was infallible and could be discovered, for that was God’s purpose.  I had found that a deconstruction approach, however, was futile, for it declared itself to result in meaningless meanings from a text that was itself meaningless. However, I believed that the words of the Scriptures had true meanings, and they could be not only understood but also life changing if received by faith.

However, I believed that the words of the Scriptures had true meanings, and they could be not only understood but also life changing if received by faith.

 

Biblical New Criticism?

Analyzing literary techniques found in the Scriptures is not always easy, for we live in a different age and culture.  Nor are we familiar with the writing strategies prominent in the Scriptures, and finding them is difficult.

For example, the use of an ironic tone in the Bible is not always apparent, and if it is used, it is often difficult to discern.  However, we may discover fairly easily that Elijah is being very ironic when he says, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone” (I Kings 18:27).

If you will recall, Elijah had set up a test for the 450 prophets of Baal.  He challenged them to offer an ox as sacrifice; however, they were not to start a fire, but instead were to challenge Baal himself to burn the sacrifice on his altar.

So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. (I Kings 18:28-29)

When no fire appeared, Elijah was moved to speak words of ironic ridicule, saying, “Perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.”

Elijah then showed how God was strong on his behalf.  He had the Lord’s altar rebuilt with a trench around it, then he had four pitchers of water poured over the ox, not once but three times, until the water filled the trench also.

When he prayed for God to reveal Himself, the fire appeared miraculously:

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” (I Kings 18:38-39)

 

Double Meanings

One university freshman literature class I had was reading an essay from our text that was written in a highly ironic tone. The author essentially was saying that medical personel should not be required by law to hold to their Hippocratic Oath, for they should not be required to treat patients with extremely communicable diseases such as AIDS.

Several students wrote their analysis of this essay agreeing with the author, not realizing that he was using an extremely ironic tone in his essay.  In essence, his intentions were entirely the opposite of what his words seemed to be saying.

After studying this lack of recognition in students further, I learned that the cognitive abilities of most young people do not completely function until well after their teens when their pre-frontal brain lobes have fully developed.

Thus, college freshmen by and large are unaware of the many nuances of tone in language and in writing particularly.  I found I had to demonstrate verbally, using exaggerated tones of voice, to show the difference between the many different messages that might be communicated in writing just by altering the tone in my voice.

 

Irony in the Scriptures?

This kind of ironic double meaning is apparent in the description God gave to Isaiah:

Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed. (Is 6:10)

Why would God not want people to hear, or see, or understand the prophet? Why wouldn’t He want the people to be healed? Jesus essentially said the same thing after telling His Parable of the Sower:

To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven. (Mark 4:11)

In other words, an obstinate people may hear the words, but they will not receive the message for which they will then be held accountable.  Is God being cruel to these people?  No, He ultimately is being kind.

 

Finding Patterns

In a similar way, I learned that finding patterns in the Scriptures was helpful in understanding what the authors, and hence the Holy Spirit, intended.

While reading through Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth, for example, I found some significant passages in the fourth and tenth chapters that seemed interrelated, especially after I was able to discern the similarities in their contexts and meanings.

Read through the following passages carefully to see if you also can find the similar meanings:

  • But our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (II Corinthians 3:5-6)
  • And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (II Corinthians 4:3-4)
  • But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. (II Corinthians 4:13-14)
  • Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  (II Corinthians 4:13-18)
  • I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.  (II Corinthians 10:2-4)
  • You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.  (II Corinthians 10:7-11)

Finding the common themes in these passages may be difficult for you, at least at first, but read them through several times slowly, while thinking about what the Lord is telling us through the Apostle Paul.

Take note of the following extractions from these passages, for they may help you to find the common themes:

  • . . .not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
  • . . .if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. . .so that they might not see the light of the gospel
  • . . .having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,
  • . . .while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
  • For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
  • You are looking at things as they are outwardly.

Combining these ideas together, we find that we Christians are contending in a daily struggle or a kind of warfare against two competing realms.  The conflict is in the realm of the flesh and the realm of the spirit, between what is seen as opposed to what is unseen, the outward appearance versus the unseen inner reality, between faith fighting against unbelief, and what is veiled in darkness against what is seen in the light.

Consequently, we find that the Apostle Paul wants to teach us about walking in the Spirit according to the Word of God, not looking to outward appearances or moving according to the flesh, but being guided by the unseen presence of the mighty God and taking our guidance from Him.

 

The New Covenant with Israel, Part II

False Interpretations…

In Part I of this Blog topic we examined God’s dealings with Israel, and we saw that Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  In the “Sermon on the Mount,” He said this:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  (Matthew 5:17-18)

If all has been fulfilled concerning Jesus the Messiah, the focus of God’s plan, then all has been fulfilled for Israel all the Law was kept perfectly by Christ. All the sins of the people were poured out and atoned for by Christ, the Lamb of God. Therefore, the law is no longer the way to righteousness.  

Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thus, all people must look to Christ, not law-keeping, to find righteousness, or right standing, with God:  “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

After His resurrection, Jesus further explained to His disciples what His purpose was in His ministry on Earth, making clear that His work was accomplished, just as He said while dying, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:43-45)

…Lead to False Teachings

Apparently, some Bible teachers who focus on “End Times” prophecy disagree, however, saying that God’s purposes with the Law of Moses still need to be completed.  These teachers resort to interpretive extremes, then display their complicated misreadings of prophetic passages on charts or diagrams to simplify their complex models (see an example below).

For example, the teaching that follows even predicts as many as four or more resurrections from the dead:

The Bible does not teach one resurrection or even two resurrections in number. Rather, it teaches that there will be two resurrections in type which will be conducted in stages, resulting in several resurrections — at least four, to be specific.(http://www.raptureready.com/featured/reagan/dr8.html)

 

Israel Restored?

One of the most problematic misreadings, in my opinion, is the attempt to “rebuild” ancient Israel.  They seek to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem so that sacrifices may be resumed and the people may continue to follow the laws of the Old Covenant with sacrifices, thus ensuring their salvation.  This teaching contradicts the statement Jesus made to the Jewish leaders before the crucifixion, for He said, “Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).  In fact, Jesus predicted the complete destruction of the Temple, a prophecy fulfilled a mere forty years later, for indeed in A.D. 70, not one stone was left on another after Titus’s army destroyed the Temple.  

This teaching not only contradicts Jesus’ own prophecies before His crucifixion about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, but also sides with those the Apostle Paul calls “accursed,” for these teachers want the Jews to be able to continue following the Laws of Moses.  Here is Paul’s judgment:  

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  (Galatians 3:10-14)

 

The Gap Theory

In addition, with no exegetical justification, they insert a “gap” of what has currently amounted to about 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th weeks in Daniel’s “Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.” This is the passage: 

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.  (Daniel 9:24-27)

They also attribute the works of Messiah the Prince in this passage to  “the prince who is to come,” or the one they designate the Anti-Christ, making him the one who makes and end of sin, makes atonement for iniquity, and brings in everlasting righteousness.  They have taught these extreme interpretations and more, while making improbable predictions of future events,and even incorporating astrology (an occult practice forbidden under the Old Covenant), such as adding “blood” moons, into their presentations and publications.  

 

More Examples of False Teachings

What follows here are some examples of false teachings based on misinterpretations:

1.  British Israelism:

This teaching states that all of the British peoples from Australia to New Zealand, from England to the United States, are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and hence the inheritors of the promises of the Old Covenant.  Yet, Paul writes clearly that the Lord is no longer sees either Jews or gentiles, but rather a new, born-again Body of Believers, who will inherit the fullness of the promises made to Abraham through Christ Jesus:  

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

2.  Jews Rule the World:

The theory that present day Israel will one day rule the world from Jerusalem.  Jesus Himself or even a resurrected King David,  according to some teachers, will return again to sit on a throne that is yet to be constructed. When the Old Testament prophecies are read only from a historical perspective, rather than focusing on covenant relationships, these teachers believe and teach that there will be a future time of national Israel’s rule as head over all the nations.

Yet, after the resurrection of Christ Jesus, when the disciples asked if He would restore the kingdom to Israel at that time, Jesus redirects their thinking to another level than the mere political.  He said, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Jesus tells them that their focus should not concern national borders or cultures and that He Himself is the fulfillment of all the promises in the Old Testament: 

 “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  (Luke 24:44-48)

Thus,  Christ’s rejection by the Jews was not only part God’s original plan, but also Jesus told His disciples that His Kingdom was not of this world.  

In his Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul makes clear that Christ’s kingdom cannot be bounded either by human wisdom or international borders:  

 In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. (Ephesians 1:8-10)

Paul also wrote that he prays that Believers in Christ Jesus will understand this “mystery” of God’s will.  As shown in the following passage below, Christ’s coronation has already occurred in the Heavenlies.  Since Christ currently reigns over His spiritual kingdom from the right hand of God, not only in Paul’s age  but “also in the one to come,” there is no need for Him to be enthroned  on earth, especially since He now rules in a glorified body, the Head over all believers, whether Jew or Gentile:

 These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:17-23)

 3.   Renewed Sacrifices

It is taught that the Jews will again make sacrifices for sin in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, or possibly a “Holy Place.” These sacrifices would essentially render void or inadequate the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of all.  (See the note below from an actual web site which proclaims this teaching.)

However, the Scriptures are clear that the Old Covenant has been fulfilled and the New Covenant has come, as prophesied in Jeremiah (see 31:31-34).  And the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament is clear in stating that the old sacrifices for sin were mere copies of the one true sacrifice for sin offered by our High Priest, Christ Jesus:

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26)

Why would God desire the Jews to return to a copy, or prototype, when the real version exists and has replaced the mere copies?  Those who advocate for renewed sacrifices are in line with the false teachers Paul exposes in his letter to the Galatians, for they advocated a continued following of Old Testament practices. 

To teach that the Old Covenant commandments are acceptable to God is to divide what God has joined together in Christ. And this teaching directly contradicts Jesus’ statement to the woman at the well: “An hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:21, 23).

4.  Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks

In a prediction that incorporates their misreading of the Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9 (see above), some teachers claim that the Anti-Christ will one day make a bargain that will lead to Armageddon and the final destruction of the world before the Messiah returns.  

II Thessalonians 2:1-17, however, is a passage which is also used to support the idea that the Anti-Christ will appear in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.  This prediction is problematic, however, because II Thessalonians was most likely written before A.D. 70, a date which allows for the prophecy to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the son of Vespasian and a future Emperor, not to any future temple in this age. 

Instead, it makes much more sense, therefore, for the “prince who is to come” or the “man of lawlessness” (found in Daniel 9 or II Thesalonians 2) to refer to Titus, the future Emperor of Rome, when he brought about the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.   

5.  The 2,000 year Gap

Some end times prophecy teachers refer to the present day Church Age period as a kind of “interlude” in the progress of Israel’s prophesied history, still believed to be God’s primary purpose.  They somehow hold to the idea that the blood of lambs and goats is needed by the Jews who are still under the Old Covenant, making these sacrifices equal to the blood of Christ.  In effect, they say, the Jews were offered the Kingdom that was promised when Jesus appeared at His first advent, but they rejected Christ the Messiah, even to the point of crucifying Him.  

This rejection led God the Father to implement another plan, they say, since His will was not received by the Jews.  Thus, the Church Age was implemented, though God will yet revive the promises to Israel, giving them another opportunity to repent before Christ comes again, when a “remnant” of the Jews will be saved.  

They believe that the Old Covenant of the Law of Moses still needs to be fulfilled, that Jews during the supposed seven-year tribulation period will still be saved through sacrifices in a rebuilt temple, in spite of the teachings in Hebrews that such sacrifices cannot ever cleanse the sins of the people completely.   

Incredibly, some teachers even believe that the new converts saved during the supposed Tribulation Period of Seven Years will not be part of the Body of Christ in Heaven, but will live and rule from Jerusalem during the Millenium, another symbolic or figurative concept from the Book of Revelation that has been made literal.  

The Olive Tree

However, the prophecy of the Apostle Paul in Romans remains:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

     “The Deliverer will come from Zion,
     He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
      “This is My covenant with them,
     When I take away their sins.”

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  (Romans 11:25-29)

No, God has not forsaken Israel, though, He through Christ the Messiah, was rejected.  All Israel will be saved, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles who have been grafted into the Olive Tree.  Christ came to save us and to unite Jews and Gentiles into one body “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man” (Eph 2:15).  

This is a mystery, Paul writes, but we must understand this mystery in context with the rest of the teachings of the Scriptures about the covenants God has made with His people, both Jews and Gentiles.  Above all, we must not be “wise in our own estimation,” as Paul warns, but rightly divide the Word of Truth.  

The Church is one and the same with New Covenant Israel – one redeemed people,  heirs to the covenants of promise through Jesus Christ:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.(Ephesians 2:11-16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The New Covenant with Israel, Part I

Another Mystery

In reading and discovering the “mysteries” revealed in the Scriptures, we are finding that they must be understood with insight and spiritual revelation from the Holy Spirit. Too often supposed revelations about the End Times come from Bible teachers who reject much of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Believers.  

The Holy Spirit was given to be our Teacher, yet so many are finding prophetic revelations in historical events rather than the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading to many false teachings.  

The mysteries of God are revealed truths, secrets that God has kept hidden, yet He desires to reveal them to His saints, the true believers found in the Body of Christ.  The following mystery, for example, cannot be grasped without seeking wisdom from the Holy Spirit.  

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, / He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. / This is My covenant with them, / When I take away their sins.”  (Romans 11:25-27)

Read this passage again if you need to.  To understand it, we must define a few terms, particularly “Israel” and “the fullness of the Gentiles.”

God is Timeless

To understand God’s will, we must first seek to view the Scriptures from His perspective.  This approach is encouraged by the Apostle Paul, who tells the believers in Corinth to be spiritual in their thinking, comparing them not to grownups who eat meat but to infants who subsist only on milk:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.  (I Corinthians 3:1-2)

See also this passage:

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.  (I Corinthians 14:1)

In fact, the Apostle Paul at times has to resort to making literal statements to ensure that he was understood.  Paul takes this approach with the Galatian church since they have succumbed to the false teachings of those claiming that these gentile believers needed to follow the laws handed to the Israelites by Moses, including male circumcision.

After explaining to them again how he received the teachings of the Gospel through “a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12), Paul makes clear the approach that comes from false teachers.  “Who has bewitched you,” he writes in both righteous anger and frustration.  

Paul then continues to exhort them:

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  

Thus, the statements of Paul show that following a legalistic system of laws and regulations is ultimately fruitless.  It was only introduced by Moses because the original heirs of the Covenant God made with Abraham were disobedient.

Subsequently, the Law of Moses was essentially given to show that, aside from Jesus Christ the perfect Son of God, no one can possibly keep all of the provisions required perfectly; the Law was given to show that we need grace since we cannot obtain righteousness on our own:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:24-26)

Living in such legalism is not what God desires for neither Jews nor Gentiles who comprise His Church under a New Covenant that had both fulfilled the promises made to Abraham and replaced the Old Covenant made with Israel through Moses.  

All of our own righteousness is only filthy rags, even though in our blindness we are deluded into thinking that we are good people. Thanks be to God, Who has made it possible to come into His presence in spite of our sin through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and High Priest.  

 

A Partial Blindness

Paul is qualified to speak to the “blindness” of the Jews, for he himself was a model Pharisee, a keeper of the Law and a strident persecutor of those who believed otherwise, even witnessing the stoning of Stephen.  

He relates in his Letter to the Romans that he grieves over the Jews’ unbelief, saying that if possible he would give up his own life if doing so would open their eyes to the truth.  

Indeed, the hardness of their hearts was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah.  However, due to their unbelief and disobedience, God declares through His prophet that He is divorcing national Israel and making a New Covenant:  

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This “New Covenant” sounds surprisingly like the covenant Christ promised during His first coming and instituted at the Last Supper, for it indeed puts the law of the Lord into the hearts of the people.  The Holy Spirit is poured out under this New Covenant, and their sins and iniquities are no longer merely be covered over with the blood of bulls and goats but cleansed with the blood of Jesus Christ Himself, who becomes the sacrificial Lamb.

This partial hardening of many Jewish hearts continued from Jeremiah’s time through the trial and execution of Jesus and on through the persecutions against the early Church.  Paul is clear, however, in saying that this unbelief does not include all Jewish people, for a remnant will be saved.  In fact, Paul declares that “all Israel will be saved,” most likely at the time of Christ’s Second Coming when the “times of the Gentiles has come in.”

 

Learning the Truth

The final authority must be Jesus Himself, and He was clear with Nicodemus that interpreting literally is not always the wisest choice.  Being “born again” does not mean entering again into the mother’s womb, as Nicodemus thought Jesus was saying. 

And Jesus certainly spoke figuratively when He gave to His disciples the bread and the wine during the Last Supper, though not all interpret Christ’s words figuratively. Unfortunately, some still insist on believing that the communion elements are the actual flesh and blood of Jesus that they are receiving, yet many teachers today who insist on interpreting the Bible literally would disagree with those who see the communion elements as being “transubstantiated.”

We must realize also, therefore, that God’s timeless perspective is not like our own.  In the flesh, we must perceive with our physical senses, senses that are subject to time.  We can only understand the past and the future in our minds, yet God sees and knows all things.  Therefore, we must continue in the Spirit what we have begun in the Spirit.

Those who teach that the Scriptures must only be interpreted “literally” must surely realize that Christ’s disciples were given the “mystery of the Kingdom of God,” a mystery which could only be interpreted figuratively.   Jesus even chided them for not understanding His figurative stories, or parables.  

Yet, those whom Jesus referred to as “those on the outside” were taught only in the form of parables so that they would not understand (Mark 4:11-12).  Presumably, if Jesus had taught them literally, not figuratively, then those who were skeptics or unbelievers would be able to understand the meanings for which they would ultimately be held accountable for, even in their unbelief.  

 

Interpreting End Times Prophecies Literally

The prophecies and dreams that reveal God’s plans for the future were delivered and written in the form of symbolic language, hence the strange “beasts” of Daniel’s and John’s dreams and visions, for example.  Yet so many Bible teachers today want to take these symbolic and metaphorical revelations and place them in a literal box, even though doing so makes the results nonsensical or unsound.  

For example, do those who seek a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, built for the purpose of reintroducing sacrifices, actually believe that God wants the Jews to return to the laws and practices of the Old Covenant, especially when the revelations given to Paul have declared them to be mere copies of the one true sacrifice already made by Jesus?  Don’t they realize that the temple destroyed in 70 A.D. was only a copy of the true Temple in Heaven, where Christ today sits on His throne as Prophet, Priest, and King?  And this was the Temple that would soon be destroyed in 70 A.D. because it was no longer to be the focus of the New Covenant?

This is what the writer of the Book of Hebrews declares: 

Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. . . .Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. (Hebrews 8:5, 9:23-25)

Since Jesus Christ came to do away with these “copies,” why would God want to have another mere copy made today, especially after Christ Jesus wept over Jerusalem and not one stone of the Temple would be left on another?  

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  (Matthew 23:37-38)

 

 

The Promises Fulfilled

The justification for this conclusion, that the Temple will supposedly be rebuilt and sacrifices re-established, is that God’s promises made to Israel under the Old Covenant were never actually fulfilled.  However, a true reading of the Scriptures reveals otherwise:

 

  1.  God has indeed fulfilled the promises given to Israel concerning the land:  

So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45)

  1.  The idea that God has not fulfilled the promises made to Israel concerning earthly rule and governance, specifically the promises made to King David, were fulfilled through Jesus Christ. He said He came to fulfill the Law and be the One to receive the fulfillment of the promises of God (Matthew 5:17-20).  Christ’s New Covenant is based not on an earthly rule but on a kingdom not of this world: His Kingdom is a whole new nation, with the Gentiles joined together with the Jews and constituting a direct descent from the Covenant God made with Abraham:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

 

Christ’s Kingdom Is Not of This World 

How does this method of interpretation relate to what the Scriptures tell us about Israel?  First, we must realize that even under the Old Covenant, it was never God’s will that the Israelites adopt the governing practices of the neighboring heathens.  He wanted His chosen people to be ruled by judges, not kings, in a form of “theocracy.”  

Second, the Apostle Paul does not refer to Israel according to contemporary terminology, as “national Israel.”  Instead, he likens the inheritors of the promises made to Abraham to a figurative “olive tree,” relating that a “partial hardening” has happened to Israel and that the unbelieving branches have unfortunately been broken off (see Romans 11).  Meanwhile, new branches have been grafted in, and these include all of the gentile believers from all over the world, a result of Christ’s Great Commission:  “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15)

Thus, the promise made to Abraham is fulfilled, that all may receive the blessings of the Covenant made with Abraham:

“By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son [Isaac], your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”  (Genesis 22:16-18)

Paul is clear, however, that unbelieving Jews, the branches that have been broken off, may one day be grafted again, making them a part of the entire Olive Tree, or the Body of Christ, which makes up the New Covenant analogy.  

Paul makes this point clear to the Galatians in the following passage:

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.  (Galatians 3:23-29)

 

Conclusion

I’m confident that Paul would be just as frustrated with those teachers in the contemporary Church for seeking to return the Jews to the laws of the Old Covenant as he was with the Judaizers who were infiltrating the Galatian Church and telling them to be circumcised to follow the old Mosaic Law.  It’s time for us to follow Paul’s wisdom:  

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved. . . .Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  (NASB Romans 11:25-26; Romans 12:6)

Current Misreadings

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Dispensationalism

I am not a dispensationalist, particularly in terms of eschatology, the doctrines of the “End Times.” Even more significantly, I do not believe in an arbitrary division between the Early Church, the age of the Apostles, and the later history of the Church in terms of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.  

In extreme forms, some dispensationalists have even advocated the abolition of water baptism and declared that the Jews will one day  be saved by following the Law of Moses, offering sacrifices in a rebuilt Temple in modern-day Jerusalem.

When Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one member of the Godhead Who would be our “Paraclete,” or “one called alongside to help,” Jesus never said or even implied that the Holy Spirit’s presence or power would be diminished, particularly in these latter days when the Church needs the Holy Spirit’s power as much as ever before.  

I believe that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29), and the One who gives us that power is the Holy Spirit.  

In fact, the “Great Commission” Jesus gave his disciples before His ascension, as written in Matthew 28, clearly states that the power to minister through the Holy Spirit is for all Christians throughout the world.  This “baptism” is different from the “indwelling” Jesus gave to His disciples shortly after His resurrection, as it says in John’s Gospel:  

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them,“Receive the Holy Spirit.  (John 20:19-22).

Jesus also made this promise after His resurrection and before His ascension to Heaven:

Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:14-17)

Notice that these promises are for all who believe, even those who proclaim His good news to the rest of the world.  The only stipulation Jesus gives is that they believe in Him.

Later, before His ascension, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for a very special gift:

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said“you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

The disciples had already received the indwelling Holy Spirit as John relates (see above), but Jesus follows up this statement with a promise that in its context includes all Christians, not just the Early Church:

 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

The remotest part of the earth undoubtedly includes where all of us are living today.

This Gift is For All Who Call on the Name of the Lord

Many will strongly disagree with me, but I will attempt to provide a concise statement that proves the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh, or “all mankind,” not just the disciples in Early Church.  See this passage from the Prophet Joel:  

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.  (Joel 2:28-29)

This is the same prophecy that the Apostle Peter quotes on the Day of Pentecost, when he spoke to the people gathered who had heard the followers of Jesus speaking in their own languages and seeing the fire of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul’s Statement About the Spiritual Gifts

The First Letter to the Corinthians contains a statement that many dispensationalists use to prove that the Holy Spirit’s gifts that were poured out on the Day of Pentecost  are no longer being given to the Church.  Indeed, this passage is part of their rationale that supposes all manifestations of the gifts may even be demonic, or demon-inspired.

This is the passage:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:8-13)

Clearly, this passage teaches that one day gifts of prophecy and glossolalia (tongues) will no longer be necessary at a future time, for they will either cease or be “done away.”  The question is, when will this cessation occur?  

The specific indicator in the passage declares that “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”  The dispensationalist’s  reationale is that the “perfect” is the completion of the New Testament Scriptures, whose existence meant that the Holy Spirit’s gifts to lead and instruct the Church were no longer necessary.

This teaching is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Scriptures are still not accessible to many people because of the many needs for translations.   

More significantly, however, this teaching is self-contradictory in the sense that the word “perfect” obviously includes all the Scriptures, even I Corinthians Chapters 12 and 14 , both of which provide a thorough teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Why is it that those who believe and accept the Scriptures as the inerrant and infallible Word of God arbitrarily delete whole passages, declaring them essentially irrelevant, to have passed away, or to have ceased, particularly when the rest of the teachings in the Word contradict their beliefs?

A Rebuttal Based on Sound Exegesis

I believe that the context of Paul’s statement about some of the gifts passing away needs to be consistent with the entire letter to the Corinthians, not just a single phrase that is incorrectly interpreted, or even added to.

Thus, Paul speaks of seeking the greater, or  the “best,” gifts (I Corinthians 12:31), for example, and he even declares that those who disagree with him are not to be recognized:

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.  Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (I Corinthians 14:37-40)

In addition, see what Paul writes in the first chapter of his letter:

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 1:4-8)

This passage couldn’t be more clear in terms of providing a context for the entire letter.  Paul commends the Corinthian Church for being enriched in all speech and knowledge (allusions to the spiritual gifts he later teaches about in chapter 12: 4-11), and he states specifically that the Corinthians are not lacking in any gift as they await the “revelation” or “parousia,” a specific reference to the second coming of the Lord.  Paul writes that Jesus Christ will “confirm you to the end”  in the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” another specific reference to the Second Coming.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul does not write inconsistently.  He first praises the Corinthians for being enriched with the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, then later exhorts them to “covet” the best gifts while awaiting the Second Coming, an event that we still await today.  

Decently and in Order

Most definitely, some problems existed within the Corinthian Church concerning spiritual gifts.  The Corinthians were misusing the gift of tongues, for example, calling attention to themselves instead of glorifying God in their prayers.  Paul strongly relates that in their gatherings the gift of prophecy should be used predominantly, particularly if no one is present who can interpret what the tongues-speaker is saying.  

Paul says that he speaks in tongues more than any of them, yet in the assembly he would rather speak in such a way that all may say “amen” to his utterances.

This is a particular problem in many churches today, and it is one of the reasons why many well-meaning church leaders declare that speaking in tongues should be forbidden. 

Speaking Mysteries

The problem derives from a great misconception about the purpose of this gift.  Today, the perception is that these utterances are messages from God to the gathered believers, necessitating the contribution of one who has the gift of interpretation.  In fact, Paul relates, the opposite is true:

For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.  One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.

However, an understanding of the contexts of the relevant passages reveals that speaking in tongues is not a message from God to the church, but instead is a message from the speaker to God in the form of a mystery, or prayer.  

Even in the example of the Day of Pentecost, the gathered listeners heard in their own languages how the disciples were “speaking of the mighty deeds of God” (2:11), in effect, speaking words of praise to Him.  

Paul attempts to correct the problems in Corinth of speaking an unknown language with the following teachings. 

Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?

Paul suggests that they be sure an interpreter is present, one who has the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues.  Otherwise, he writes, those who do not understand will be unable to say “Amen” at the close of the prayer.

In addition, he strongly advises that believers seek the Gift of Prophecy so they can speak the words of God in a known language:  “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying” (I Corinthians 14:5)  

This Gift of Prophecy is given by the Holy Spirit in order to offer words of comfort, edification, and exhortation to the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 14:3).  It is not intended only to offer a prediction of future events, though in the mouth of a “Prophet” or “Prophetess” such utterances may occur, as they did in the Book of Acts. 

According to the Apostle Paul, we must continue to seek to exercise the Gift of Prophecy:  “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues, a gift which Paul implies is useful when we do not know how to pray. 

However, all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (I Corinthians 14:39).

 

Conclusion

You may recall the words of Jesus, Who gave in Mathew 10 the following admonition to His followers:

You will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18-20)

This a description of what prophecy is and how it is exercised.  It reveals one reason, I believe, why the Lord want us to allow the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of prophecy, for He wants us to know what He is saying to us.  To be sure He meant the Gentiles also, not just His immediate followers, He said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. …My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 16:10, 17).

Finally, in a further demonstration of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the 4th Chapter of Acts, following the healing of the lame beggar and Peter and John’s subsequent arrest, we read of a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit in the gathered believers after the two apostles have been released:  “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness”  (Acts 4:31).

May we all seek and pray for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit.

 

 


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